keeping children and their attention spans in check keeping children and their attention spans in check

While it can be normal for children to be distracted or not pay attention to certain activities sometimes, when this behavior turns into a pattern, they should be seen by a doctor.

 Medical Advisor: Juan Fernando Muñoz Martínez, Psychiatrist and Neuropsychologist

For children under age 7, temporary distractions are normal. Due to their cognitive development, they can struggle with focusing on certain tasks; however, specific warning signs may indicate that this behavior is something more serious. When there are changes or shifts in their attention, they may be experiencing symptoms of a deficit of attention, “Generally, this condition does not affect their academic performance or their ability to do housework independently at home, but it may become necessary to monitor this behavior to determine whether everything is under control or if an intervention is needed,” suggests child psychiatrist and neuropsychologist Juan Fernando Muñoz Ramírez.

Another possible diagnosis is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD), conditions that require special treatment, especially when: their behavior shows a noticeable lack of attention, they have difficulty focusing on different activities, or they are hyperactive or impulsive.

As Dr. Muñoz explains, this disorder is a progressive neurological problem that starts in the mother’s womb and manifests in different ways when the child starts school or transitions to first grade, between ages six and seven. This condition occurs in 8 out of every 100 children.

Common signs

In general, attention deficit appears in children who: have difficulties controlling their motor activities (such as remaining seated in situations where this is obligatory, like in the classroom); interrupt the activities of others; put a lot of pressure on parents when they want something; struggle learning basic concepts at school (reading, writing or math); lack the ability to do homework independently; or are slow doing activities such as writing, getting ready to leave the house, showering, getting dressed or eating.

Dr. Muñoz states that ADHD occurs when the child tends to take on a lot of risk when doing something that could hurt themselves, when they ignore the precautions of adults, or when they have trouble interacting with their peers and are hypersensitive to anything that troubles them, engage in frequent arguments, or are not being able to be flexible when it comes to something they want.

Take action

In conclusion, if it is suspected that a child suffers from being easily distracted or has ADD or ADHD – and after considering their intellectual capacity, verbal and manual skills, the time it takes them to process, and their memory and attention span – they may need treatment with sessions that involve holding conversations between parents and the child.

An estimated 50% of cases persist throughout adulthood; and while these symptoms are almost the same, making a diagnosis becomes more complicated because symptoms can be mistaken for those of substance abuse or mental illnesses, such as anxiety or mood disorders.

It may therefore be necessary to see a specialist to reach a proper diagnosis. This can help avoid negatively affecting the patient’s quality of life over time due to concentration and organizational problems•

Communication between parents and children

  • When necessary, parents should stop what they are doing to get their children’s attention.
  • Call the child by name.
  • Maintain eye contact and ask the child to repeat or explain what was told to them to make sure it was heard and understood.
  • If the child interrupts, talk in short sentences so that he or she focuses only on what needs to be said.
  • Do not interrupt the child frequently, as he or she may not be able to stay interested in the conversation.
  • If the child’s attention is diverted, touch their arm, hold hands or resort to another form of physical contact.
  • Include words such as “consequence,” “reward,” or “positive and negative behavior” in family conversations; this helps make for clear communication.
  • Also try using other phrases such as “time out” instead of “go to your room.”

30 % of children with either ADHD or ADD may experience difficulties learning.