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Myths About Distractibility and Solutions That WORK


Myth: Tapping pencils, doodling, and rocking back and forth in the chair equals distraction.

Truth: We now know that children attend better when they move around or are given something to hold or touch. Provide sensory input to help the child to focus. Stress balls, chewing gum, and weighted lap pads provide an outlet for the ‘fidgeter’. In addition, a recent study found the twistable Tangle Toy Jr. ( helped students to sustain effort and complete assignments accurately. Movement is also essential. Allow work to be done while standing up or pacing the room.

Myth: Students should quietly study in their room.

Truth: Distractible students do best when an adult checks in periodically. Choose a place away from the household action but close enough for you to monitor, such as the dining room. Assist your child with getting started on the task at hand. Have him set a timer for a short period of time with the goal of working consistently. By checking in when the timer rings, you’ll be allowing him independence and creating accountability at the same time. A portable ‘study zone’ with all materials (paper, pens, highlighters) in one place, is also helpful for students who always seem to be searching for supplies.

Myth: If a student wanted to pay attention, he could.

Truth: Kids that struggle to focus are consistently inconsistent. One day they can concentrate perfectly, and the next day is a battle. Their distractibility can be neurobiological in nature and they must be taught effective coping mechanisms.

Rather than nagging, use positive reinforcement and effective rewards. Try a ‘mystery motivator’ – after your child is on task for an allotted period of time, he can choose a reward card from an envelope (15 minutes extra on Wii, 10 minute later bedtime, etc.). The suspense of working towards an unknown prize is quite powerful for many.

Additionally, research shows that placing a mirror in your child’s work space will help him monitor his own attention. Your child is likely to refocus if he looks up and sees that he’s off task. As an added benefit, keeping a mirror in the workspace was found to improve the accuracy of assignments.

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