Signs & Symptoms

Focused Attention

Is your child distractable?

As a parent of a child with these challenges, you may hear yourself say, “That child would lose his own head if it wasn’t screwed on.”

Teachers may say, “He does well when he is paying attention…it’s just hard for him to focus.”

The ability to attend to the task at hand and to block out distracting sights, sounds, smells is known as focused attention.

Children who struggle with this issue are easily distracted by someone walking by the classroom, by hearing the rumble of an old car, or even by their own thoughts!

Some children will begin homework, think of something funny, which makes them think of laughing at lunch today, which will make them think of grabbing a snack, which makes them wander aimlessly into the kitchen.

This child may not be avoiding his homework and generally can’t tell you how he got off task in the first place.

These types of challenges are not due to the inability to pay attention but rather with the inability to control what one pays attention to in the environment. And, more importantly, what one doesn’t.

You may hear family members say, “Look, squirrel!” jesting that your child is easily distracted by the smallest thing. Another way to think about it is focused attention is not a “do” function but a “don’t do.” This skill is critical for learning in the classroom, socializing and completing academic and household tasks.

If you see this challenge impacting your child in school, it is important to look further into the problem. It may be that a cognitive or neurological problem is causing your child’s difficulties.

What do challenges with Focused Attention look like?

  • Off-task?
  • Experiencing difficulties staying focused for more than a few seconds?
  • Having trouble finishing schoolwork?
  • Being distracted easily?
  • Drifting constantly when the smallest thing that catches his or her eye?
  • Moving from one thing to the next to the next?
  • Hearing from teachers say to ‘pay more attention?’

Why is Focused Attention happening?

The ability to pay attention is extremely important to your child’s development. Focused attention refers to the ability to concentrate on uninteresting tasks, which requires the child to inhibit the urge to do something else. 


Inhibition: To inhibit responses means to stop oneself from being pulled away by not talking to the person, not walking toward the distracting object, or not looking at the distracting situation. In medical terms, inhibition is known as the ability to inhibit prepotent responses. A prepotent response is the response you would naturally want to do. For example, to practice inhibiting your own prepotent response, you might try looking at a picture of the sun and saying ‘night’ and then looking at a picture of the moon while saying ‘day.’ If your child is struggling with attention, it is extremely important to seek professional help. Attention problems can have a pervasive impact in many areas of your child’s life.


Most psychologists and medical doctors agree that combined behavioral and pharmaceutical intervention is best. Taken together, it is important for parents to be aware that attention problems can have a significant impact on a child’s functioning and that the provision of accurate diagnosis, psychological and pharmaceutical intervention can bring lasting positive change.

How can I manage Focused Attention at home?

If you are wondering about your child’s tendency to lose focus easily, he or she is likely going to need some support. Children who are highly distracted tend to have challenges at school and home because they often miss key instructions and information.

Unfortunately, this symptom is often linked to poor behavioral inhibition, which leads to getting in trouble at home and at school.

An assessment of these difficulties should shed light on the severity of the challenges and determine if they are related to ADHD. It is important to note that children with ADHD often have significant problems in school, socially, and in the community.

Too often, parents are hesitant to get a diagnosis because, “I don’t want to put my kid on medication.”

If ADHD is indeed diagnosed, your family will still be in control of any decisions made regarding your child’s medical interventions and supports.

Medication options should be discussed with a psychiatrist or primary care physician and not with school staff or other therapists.

Another option may be that your child is unable to pay attention due to another disability and would be responsive to other associated treatments. For example, some children with poor attention may have a trauma history, anxiety, or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

In these cases, treatments are available to encourage growth in skills.

For ADHD, research suggests a combination of environmental supports and stimulant medication is the most successful treatment. At school, modifications may include extra time, a quiet space to work when distracted, the opportunity to take breaks, to use fidget toys, and to stand up during worktime.

At home, environmental supports can include having a quiet designated space for work, using a timer to keep homework sessions manageable and offering rewards like game time for completing assignments. Use a sticker chart and a visible schedule for the daily routine.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Focused Attention?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

We Help You, Immediately

Our Free Discovery Session is a 20-minute consultation where we can talk one-on-one about the concerns and questions you have about your child.

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We Help Determine Next Steps

Our Initial Consultation allows us to get a deeper understanding of your child’s needs and determine if an assessment is appropriate.

We Build a Customized Plan

Our Assessments allow us to determine your child’s specific strengths and challenges. We can use this information to develop a customized support plan which includes: referrals

We Connect you with the Right Professionals

Once we understand your child’s needs, we will help families get connected to the right specialists. No more guesswork, no more wasted time and resources.

We Provide Ongoing Coaching and Support

Our Coaching Packages allow us to continually support families as they continue their journeys. Parental coaching, life-skills practice, and school advocacy are just a few examples of ways we help.

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