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Concentrating long and hard enough in class to absorb what is being taught comes easier to some children than others. Some children have great difficulty concentrating. We look at some of the causes and solutions.

In any classroom there will be a range of concentration levels, and concentrating is essential to proper learning. There may be numerous underlying reasons why some children have difficulty concentrating. If your child struggles in class to such an extent that their work progress suffers noticeably, you should address it. But before you jump the gun and pin the blame on ADHD, the scapegoat of concentration problems, there may be other root causes, from a noisy classroom to sensory integration problems and even epilepsy.

Some are relatively easy problems to fix, but others can be complex and require a battery of tests to get to the bottom of them. Nutrition and sleep are two of the simplest and most common factors affecting concentration, claims Justin Skea, an educationalist. “In my experience, if a child does not sleep enough or has a diet lacking in essential nutrients, such as iron, it plays a huge role in how a child concentrates.”

Skea points out other issues in a teaching environment that may be relatively easy to resolve. A fidgety child’s desk and chair may be incorrectly sized, and a child may be a kinaesthetic or tactile learner, meaning they can concentrate best when they can move, stand or touch something rather than having to “sit and be quiet”. Children with slightly slower processing skills or poor working memory may also have difficulty concentrating.

According to EQ Advant-Edge’s Andrea Kellerman, an educational psychologist and neurofeedback practitioner, there is a plethora of things that may cause difficulty concentrating. “There may be too many visual distractions in the classroom, the child may have auditory discrimination or visual perception problems, a learning disability or  high levels of anxiety that cause the brain to be in overactive mode,” she explains. “Different therapies work for specific problems, but one should never just ignore them.”

Read our article on childhood learning difficulties.

Shooting in the light

If the problem lies deeper than the child simply being bored with a dull learning activity, they may need professional help. But when do you make that call? “The golden rule for me,” says Skea, “is if it is affecting two or more aspects of a child’s life. School performance should never be the sole yardstick.”

Cape Town-based educational psychologist Sharon Aitken advises a good psychoeducational assessment before choosing a therapeutic route for your child. “If you don’t know what’s really wrong you may end up wasting an awful lot of money on interventions that won’t make a difference,” she says. Aitken explains that the assessment should provide a clear understanding of the child’s intelligence level and cognitive skills, as well as scholastic, emotional, physical and sensory functioning. Depending on the outcome of the tests, your child’s may be referred to other specialists, such as a behavioural optometrist, audiologist or paediatrician to check for an underlying illness. “Once all the findings are in, the supervising psychologist will then create an intervention, ensuring the child is not overloaded with therapies,” explains Aitken.

If your child has difficulty concentrating due to anxiety, professionals, such as Kellerman, may formulate a brain training programme involving sensors that will stimulate the brain with the correct brainwave frequency. “The stimulation trains the brain to change and to create new, desirable neural pathways,” says Kellerman. “Other techniques that may help with anxiety include relaxation and guided visualisation to help them gain more control of their mind and emotions. The exciting thing is that the brain can be trained and can change.”

Home help

There are things you can do at home to help your child. Skea recommends the following for children who have difficulty concentrating.

Routine

A structured routine at home and at school gives every child the foundation they need for emotional wellbeing. Routine includes ensuring that your child gets sufficient and proper sleep each night. Exercise should also form part of this daily routine.

homework

If your child has difficulty concentrating and is overwhelmed by delivering the end product, help them break the task into bite-size chunks. In this way they will be able to work steadily and systematically through a task that may seem insurmountable at the outset.

concentration challenge

An egg timer or countdown clock is a fun way to get children to focus on the task at hand. Challenge them to complete a task in a set time. For kinaesthetic learners, you could add a fun element by getting them to run outside and back in before being set the next time challenge.

study area

Create an area in the home or classroom that allows the child to work or read quietly without disruptions and distractions. For the highly sensory child, you could even create a “mock” cave or tent for a quiet place to “escape”.

quiet time

Limit exposure to TV and other electronic devices. Avoid filling your child’s day with endless activities. Allow time for them to be quiet and still.

 

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