Many children have trouble focusing at school. Each child is unique, so it’s important to understand why your child is unfocused.
In this article, I’ll talk about 8 of the most common reasons why kids struggle with focus in school.
Possible Reasons Why Your Child Can’t Focus
If your child is suddenly having difficulty focusing and causing concerns for you and their teachers, you might want to consider taking them to their pediatrician.
The following reasons could be behind why your child is having trouble focusing.
They’re Not Being Challenged
We tend to assume that kids lose focus because the subject matter is too difficult for them. But often, the opposite is true: Kids can’t focus because they aren’t being challenged enough.
When the subject at school is too easy for your child, then they may quickly become bored. This is especially true for kids with ADHD, who are vulnerable to boredom, to begin with. Their boredom may come across to you and their teachers as a lack of focus.
Don’t assume that this is the reason behind your child’s lack of focus. Ask their teacher to test them. Are they reading several grades above their grade level? Are they particularly talented in math?
If this turns out to be the case, then their teacher or school psychologist may be able to make recommendations regarding solutions. The key is for school material to be challenging, but not so difficult that your child becomes frustrated.
This is an obvious reason why your child may be unfocused. Even as adults, we’d have difficulty concentrating at work if there was construction noise in the background or our favorite television series was playing nearby. In the same way, your child loses concentration and focus if there are distractions around them.
Kids could get distracted by things that they don’t notice at first glance. For example, you could think that there are no distractions in the classroom, but maybe their assigned seat is near the window, where they’re easily distracted by what they see going on outside. Maybe there’s a faint humming sound that throws off their concentration.
Provide kids with a quiet and distraction-free environment in which to focus on school work. At school, it may be worthwhile to talk to their teacher about alternative seating arrangements that could limit distractions.
Recommended reading: My ADHD Child Refuses To Do Schoolwork. What Should I Do?
They Have School Anxiety
Anxiety can also cause a lack of focus. Many kids live with chronic worry disorders, and the anxiety rate is even higher for kids with ADHD. If your child has anxiety triggered by school, then it’s understandable that they’d have a hard time focusing while they’re there.
Many things can trigger school-based anxiety. Including separation anxiety (fear of being away from you, their parents), social anxiety, and more. They could be getting bullied at school, or have anxiety and stress about academics.
Whatever it is, talk to your child about it. Anxiety is a treatable condition, and a mental health professional can help your child cope with these feelings.
Not Enough Sleep
Another reason why your child could be distracted at school is that they’re not getting enough restful sleep. Research has found that sleep deprivation can cause a lack of focus for everyone, no matter how healthy. If your child seems sluggish and distracted, take a look at their bedtime routine. Sleep experts say that school-aged kids need 9 to 11 hours of sleep every night.
If your child lives with ADHD, their sleep difficulties could be more pronounced.
The problem is that the unwanted effect of insomnia can be caused by ADHD and some medications used to treat ADHD. If your child struggles to get to sleep at night, talk to their pediatrician – there may be some techniques you can use that could help.
They Aren’t Understanding the Material
Some kids are unable – or unwilling – to focus at school because they don’t understand the material. But it’s difficult for kids (and adults!) to admit that they don’t understand.
Instead of telling the teacher that they aren’t following and asking for help, some kids simply lose focus. The material becomes boring to them, not because it’s too easy but because they aren’t following. Others become defiant or display behavioral difficulties when they don’t understand; it’s easier to behave this way than to admit their lack of understanding.
This might be especially true for kids with ADHD, who statistically have lower self-esteem. But any child could have a hard time with this.
Lack of Patience
School can be a challenge, and difficult tasks require kids to be patient and persistent. Some kids may have a hard time focusing simply because they don’t have the patience to work through problems.
A lack of patience could be due to a lot of things. It’s not necessarily a sign of an underlying condition – it might just be part of your child’s temperament or personality. Work with them to be more patient with both themselves and others, solve problems one step at a time, and work persistently toward their goals.
They Have a Different Learning Style
A lack of focus could also have to do with a mismatch in learning styles. If your child’s teacher conducts their class in a way that doesn’t align with your child’s learning style, then they’re bound to get distracted quickly.
A difference in learning styles doesn’t necessarily mean that your child is neurodivergent. Different kids learn in different ways – for example, one student could learn by copying words out of a book while another learns by listening to a song or a story.
The most common learning styles are described in the VARK model:
If you see a clear difference between the way your child learns and the way their teacher presents information, talk to their teacher about it. Most educators are aware of the importance of teaching to all types of learners.
Lastly, learning disabilities could cause your child to have a hard time focusing in school. This could be because they aren’t understanding the material, but a lack of focus could also be a symptom of the learning disability itself.
Learning disabilities are disorders that affect your child’s school skills, including their ability to read, write, do mathematics, use spoken language, coordinate their movements, stay focused, and more.
Some common examples of learning disabilities include:
- Dyslexia; affects reading and language processing
- Dyscalculia; affects the ability to understand numbers
- Oral/Written language disorder; affects language
It’s important to note that ADHD is not a learning disability, but a neurodevelopmental disorder. However, ADHD does affect learning, and many kids with ADHD also have a co-occurring learning disability. Your child needs the correct diagnosis to receive the right support and treatment.
Could your child have ADHD? It’s possible; if you think that they might, then it’s important to get them assessed and diagnosed as soon as you can. ADHD is treatable, and with the right support, your child can continue to succeed. Read more about the causes of ADHD and its symptoms.
But there are also plenty of other reasons that kids get distracted at school. Most kids face a lack of focus at some point in their academic lives; it doesn’t necessarily mean they have ADHD.
If you’re concerned, or if your child’s lack of focus is getting in the way of academic achievement, then talk to their pediatrician. Together, you can figure out what’s going on and take steps to address it.