My 5-year-old is struggling to concentrate for more than a brief period of time and is falling behind the other kids in her kindergarten class. When she does concentrate for a few minutes, she's able to quickly grasp and complete tasks appropriate for her level (e.g. easy math or counting) but after a few minutes loses focus and I'm unable to get her attention back onto the subject. By comparison, others in her class don't appear to suffer from this and her 3-year-old brother is able to stay focused for much longer periods of time.

It's not just school work but any activity. If I'm playing soccer with the 3-year-old and the 5-year-old then after a short while the 5-year-old will lose interest and wander off.

What I've tried so far:

  • One-on-one engagement on each subject.
  • Games that improve the skill we're focusing on.
  • Addressing the problem directly with her and asking her to try and focus (she doesn't like talking about it and will avoid/ignore the conversation).

Are there any tricks or techniques to keep her on-task or to bring her focus back to the task-at-hand?

  • 3
    How does she do on tasks that should be above her level? It may be too hard for her, or too easy. Is there anything she DOES focus on for a long time? (I would wander off soccer, too ^^)
    – Layna
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 15:09
  • Good questions @Layna - Her level of focus doesn't change if the task is above her level. She also doesn't solve the task so I don't think that her current level is too easy. She also doesn't appear to stay on task if it's a very easy task either so I don't think that it relates to how easy/hard it is. When she watches cartoons on TV she can probably focus for 40 to 60 minutes.
    – Guy
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 21:16
  • 1
    Have you discussed the attention issue with a pediatrician? The symptoms sound very familiar (my son's got ADHD), but I don't necessarily want to give a full answer about that if it's been ruled out as a possibility. Either way, though, I'll briefly mention that having a serious conversation about Importance Of Focusing with a kindergartner is unlikely to go well anyway, and if she doesn't like talking about it, she may feel criticized and ashamed. (A brief reminder occasionally, "Let's focus on this now," however, can be helpful.)
    – Acire
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 12:34
  • 2
    @Erica - we're going to get her evaluated soon. Knowing if it's ADHD will be useful irrespective of the decision to medicate or not.
    – Guy
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 21:20
  • 1
    @AE - teachers have suggested incentives, however, we have not found one that works yet.
    – Guy
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 21:21

4 Answers 4


I know a number of parents with AD(H)D children, including myself. Some of our children are medicated, some aren't. Indeed, at such a young age it's highly unusual for medication to be recommended -- instead, there are a variety of suggestions for behavioral interventions.

I've found that those suggestion are useful for neurotypical children, too. Any child can benefit from making activities interesting and engaging, redirecting bad behavior instead of reprimanding, having an organized schedule and structured life -- I find the advice to be useful for all three of my children, not just the one officially diagnosed as ADHD.

Home Behavior is something you can directly influence.

Some of the most common (and, anecdotally from my experience, effective) suggestions focus on establishing routine, providing a distraction-free space for homework or study, and breaking jobs down into smaller, manageable tasks.

  • Divide a big task or homework assignment into smaller, manageable tasks. "Do your homework" will work for my oldest child, but is an overwhelming demand for her younger brother. Instead we sit down and look at what the homework is (some reading, practice spelling words, two math sheets), plan what order it will get done in, write in places to take breaks (e.g. have a snack after finishing the spelling, then back to work).

  • Supervise. Stay nearby while the work gets done. Gently remind what the topic or task is if attention seems to be wandering -- something simple like, "How's your math going?" or "You're making good progress so far," or "I appreciate the effort you're putting in," helps snap his concentration back from that interesting leaf outside back to what he was supposed to be looking at. The goal is not to do the homework, and not even necessarily to sit there prompting for each addition problem -- provide the extra focus that's naturally lacking, be a resource to help adjust the homework plan if it turns out something is harder (or easier!) than expected, and just be a comforting presence so it doesn't feel like ME VERSUS HOMEWORK.

  • Concentrate on positive statements and praise. Kids with attention problems get used to constantly being told that they are bad at paying attention. Since they really are trying and just can't do as well as expected, this can lead to a lot of self-blame and low self-esteem. Finding opportunities to praise even the littlest successes -- once we learned about this strategy, I can't say it's completely turned my son's life around, but his bouts of crying over how he's "stupid" and "the worst" and "can't do anything right" have significantly decreased.

  • Research suggests that regular exercise can help with some ADHD symptoms. Encourage physical activity, whether that is through organized sports or activities, or just running around the backyard or a playground. (It also is good for general physical health, so why not?)

I have had very few conversations with my son about the Importance Of Focusing and How To Pay Attention. In retrospect, the majority of them were probably pretty insulting, because it's stuff that he knows almost instinctively -- if you don't listen to your parent or teacher, you'll miss important information (including, occasionally, "it's time to eat dessert, come here if you want some!"), so listening is important. He just wasn't able to pay attention well. He tended to be more receptive when I instead led with, "I know you have a hard time paying attention, and I appreciate it so much when you are focused." Such talks aren't useful when he's tired, being reprimanded for not paying attention, or interested in doing something else and therefore not really listening -- we save it for quiet time before bed or something like that.

School Behavior is a bit more challenging, since you don't have direct control over what the teacher can do in their own classroom. We've had one teacher who was incredibly strict and impatient with his behavior (which was horrible), and two who were more lenient and helped redirect him instead of immediately resorting to punishment (and he flourished). Part of this is just down to the teacher's personality and style, but the most useful tip I found was this:

The parent can help the child by talking to the teacher before the school year starts about their child's situation. The first priority for the parent is to develop a positive, not adversarial, relationship with the child's teacher. (1)

As long as you're working together to keep an eye on behavior, attention, and your daughter's progress, it's much simpler to deal with problems that may arise. Figuring out what works and what doesn't, and sharing what you've found effective at home, will help the teacher figure out what tools or techniques they can use in the classroom to keep her learning.

If you do have a official diagnosis of ADHD, then it's possible to put together an individualized education plan (IEP) that allows for longer time on tests, a quiet room to take them, or things like that. That isn't predicated on the child being medicated or not. (The terminology is almost certainly different in countries besides the US, incidentally.) So far I don't have one in place because we've had a lot more success establishing an "informal" IEP by being very involved with his teachers.

The resources below are geared towards ADHD or ADD, but I'll repeat that I think they're useful regardless of diagnosis. Whether she's got ADHD or she's just bored by the simplicity of the work being assigned, it can't hurt to try a variety of methods to help her focus more!

  1. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder | University of Maryland Medical Center http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder

  2. ADD/ADHD Parenting Tips: Helping Children and Teens with Attention Deficit Disorder http://www.helpguide.org/articles/add-adhd/attention-deficit-disorder-adhd-parenting-tips.htm#helping

  3. Parenting a Child with AD/HD http://www.help4adhd.org/en/living/parenting/WWK2

  4. Not Paying Attention? Improve Listening Skills in ADHD Children at Home and School http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/5934-2.html (classroom) http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/5934-3.html (home)

  • "Concentrate on positive statements and praise." This is the best advice one can get. like I say in my other comment I was in your daugther shoes for a long time. Every time I heard that I'm good at smth, although sometimes I myself knew that I'm not I put effort to prove people right. Which includes reading and concentrating more. Kids love to show off. So if you can let her think she is good at smth, she might eventually start learning more about it becasue she will need to prove herself that she is right and not just talking about it. Additional info - textuploader.com/hvfj
    – ZenVentzi
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 3:51

Agreeing with David,

  • Limit all screen time
  • Possibly easier to go without any screen time for a couple weeks.

We've similarly seen night and day differences in our kids.


Sometimes just the reminder to focus is helpful. It doesn't have to be verbal, it can be a hand signal, a stance, etc. that tells her hey, your attention is needed here. She may be drifting because she's bored, or thinks she knows the material when she doesn't.

Also, when is her birthday? I ask because my son was always younger than most of his classmates, having a June birthday. When he was 5 and in kindergarten it took him more time to settle down after coming in from recess.

There was absolutely never any mention of ADHD from a pre-school teacher, babysitter, relative or anyone else in his life. His teacher told the assistant principal that he was ADHD and needed to be medicated. This was someone who had been teaching for years, and was within 10 years of retirement. She never said a word about it to me directly. I was called in for a meeting with the A.P. that the teacher was not present at, and to say it didn't go well for them is putting it mildly, I refused any testing whatsoever for my son, and suggested that it was not unreasonable to expect the teacher to work with the full spectrum of that age group. They threatened he would have to repeat kindergarten. I did not think so, as he was grasping the material well. Not only did he not have to repeat kindergarten, he did remarkably well all through school and graduated high school magna cum laude.

I did talk to him about it in very, very simple terms, and talked and talked. A little at a time going a little deeper each time, I think he thought he was in trouble. I let him know I was on his side and we needed to fix the problem and I needed his help to do so. I found out exactly what the routine was when they came in from recess from the room mother (who did not think he had a problem) and I told my son he had to play a game called stop. When teacher does such and such it's time to stop and give her your attention. I then rewarded him every time his weekly report showed the tiniest bit of improvement.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to make it sound like I'm against medication when needed, but there are other ways of handling things also. It seems like ADHD is the "in" thing for kids to have and I think its to easy to point a finger in that direction.

I've shared this tale with you to say one thing, and that is, you know your child best, how is she around others? What is your gut telling you about what is best for her? Don't let others push you into doing something you do not feel right about. Think about all your options first and how they may affect your daughter now and in the future.

You can have her tested and not do anything with it, it doesn't mean you have to medicate her. You also can have her tested privately, if you can afford it so it's not associated with her school unless you choose to share it.

Whatever you choose to do, good luck to you and your daughter.

  • An ADHD diagnosis doesn't mandate medication, and it's stupid of that teacher to jump to that extreme (regardless of whether your son did or didn't have ADHD, it's not her **** business whether he's medicated). I mainly wanted to note that some insurance plans cover a developmental psychologist review; however, a primary care pediatrician can indicate whether ADHD is a possibility or not, which is a useful step before going for the full interview/analysis workup. A quick chat about it at the regular annual well visit is helpful.
    – Acire
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 2:06
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    She has a July birthday which makes her one of the younger ones in the class.
    – Guy
    Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 18:59


Cut out TV and do a really structured set of tasks. Structured tasks, as in "We're going to drawing now until the big hand gets to the number 4". Talk, listen, and get their buy in. Point out when they've enjoyed something that they've stuck at for a period of time, even if it's a short time. Ask them how they feel when they are bored. "Do you feel happy right now?"

Sciencey bit:

Studies show (I would cite, but there is so much that Google throws up I don't need to) that TV reduces attention span in children. Neil Postman, in "The Disappearance of Childhood" expounds the reasons for this very well. TV is not an interactive medium, at all. It requires the watcher to be passive and non-proactive. Children especially can spend hours watching TV that's well outside their realm of understanding, neither remembering nor processing any of it.

Personal Experience Bit:

When my kids go to grandmas, they will watch upwards of 6 hours of TV a day. (Grandma won't admit to this, but unfortunately it's the truth). They are only awake for 13 hours a day as they are little. When they come back, they are unable to play independently, unable to focus on tasks and have their creativity shot to pieces. It takes a good few days of lots of structured tasks, interaction etc to get them back to where they were before, being the beautiful, creative creatures that all children are.

As for the structured tasks, I've been encouraged to do this when we babysit a child who has had a tough upbringing and finds it difficult to focus on anything due to trauma. Very structured timetables work very well for them and they enjoys playing like that.


I'm not saying TV is entirely to blame. It may be nothing at all and you may only let them watch 40 mins a day. Experts from the TRC have found that sometimes children can't focus on things due to experiences that they've had, things that have happened to them, maybe at school or something, that have not been good.

What I will firmly say though is please don't write this off as ADHD and med your child up. There is a reason there are entire countries in the developed Western world that do not think that ADHD is actually a real condition, and that most cases are caused by trauma which will not medicate away.

This is not meant to at all accuse, but help. If it is trauma, then there are many sources and most are not in the home. It could actually just be boredom and she'll grow out of it when she finds something that interests her.


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