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Trouble concentrating and paying attention:

This sign of stress is a lot like restlessness
and trouble calming down; but it is more of a problem for your youngster. Some
children (about 1 in twenty) have a condition called Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. These young people have abnormal problems
concentrating and paying attention. Though this probably is not your child’s
problem, be sure to consider the possibility. If your child has ADHD, he can do
nothing about it by himself and you will likely be ineffective as you try to
deal with him. Only a pediatrician and child psychologist working in
collaboration with you and your child’s teachers can diagnose ADHD with
certainty. It then needs managed medically, behaviorally, and through special
teaching and learning techniques. Importantly, simply prescribing medication
without other types of behavior and learning interventions is an incomplete and
inadequate response. There may be short-term benefits; but achieving long-term
benefits requires a multi- disciplinary approach. Your child and you cannot
successfully cope with ADHD without this type of cooperative approach.

At home and school, problems concentrating and
paying attention often are read wrong by adults. They read them as daydreaming
and willfully not paying attention. A teacher might tell you, “She spends
all her time daydreaming, not paying attention, fooling around, and wasting
time.” When misread this way, a serious stress problem can be easily
overlooked. If this happens, your child is more likely to be punished than

If you are feeling frustrated by your child’s
behavior, think about this. Have you ever had to be somewhere uninteresting,
boring, and no fun? What if it were even worse? You have trouble understanding
anything being said and do not know what is happening. Do you get the picture?

Now, What if you are told it is important and
good for you? What if you are told you will understand how important it really
is in ten or twenty or thirty years? What if you are told you are in big
trouble if you do not pay attention and make the most of the opportunity? What
does it take to get you to concentrate and pay attention? Most children are in
these kinds of situations often and do about as well or as badly as the rest of
us. Before you take any action, think about how reasonable you are being when
you expect your child to concentrate and pay attention.

Most children who have trouble concentrating and
paying attention because of stress are ignored. Even worse for them, they are
treated as if they were misbehaving. What’s more, parents and teachers often
think they were misbehaving on purpose.

Take time to look for underlying causes and
explanations. If your child often has trouble concentrating and paying
attention, ADHD needs to be considered. If the problem mostly comes up at
school or when your child needs to listen carefully or read, a learning
disability may be part of his problem. A school or child psychologist is the
best resource for evaluating the possibility of learning problems. If,
alternatively, the sign mostly occurs when your youngster has no choice about where
to be or what to do, take a minute to think about how hard it is for him to
pretend to be interested or to act like he cares when he does not.

If the problem suddenly comes up or especially
if it has been there but is getting worse, stress is the most likely cause.
Talk with your child about your concerns. The conversation might, for example,
start like this.

“I’m concerned about you. It seems like
you’re having trouble concentrating and paying attention. I noticed this when
you were working on your homework, just as an example. It seems like you have a
lot on your mind. It’s hard to concentrate when we’re thinking about important
stuff. It’s a problem for me sometimes too. Can you talk about what’s getting
to you?”

If your youngster does not want to talk, this
follow-up sometimes helps. “Let me try again. I respect the fact you don’t
want to talk about whatever is bothering you. Here’s my problem. I’m worried
and am uncomfortable just letting go of it. If you really want me to back off,
I will; but I’ll feel better if you can share just a little with me about
what’s got you so upset.”

If your child chooses to talk some, listen
patiently, acknowledge his feelings, and resist any temptation to criticize,
give uninvited advice, or tell him he is getting upset over
“nothing.” He is the judge of what is stressful for him. If he feels
stressed, it is stressful. It is as simple as that. If your child continues not
to talk and especially if he becomes angry or withdraws, keep some emotional
and physical distance but check back with him every day or two to see how he is

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