Written by Doctor G

How to Teach Kids to Focus on a Task

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dog timeMy 9 y.o. son is wonderful and smart, with great focus. But he just has no awareness of where his attention is going. He regularly misses our house rule of 15 minutes to do bedtime steps in order to get a star. We chose 15 minutes as a family because the kids CAN do it in 8, as his 6 y.o. sister does. When he misses, it’s because he sits down to read or pet the dog or stare at how the toilet lid closes. While bed is toughest, this behavior whenever he has to do something that is not internally motivated. 

Ed, in CA        

Oh, these smart kids can sometimes be so… spacey!

It sounds like you have made totally reasonable accomodations for his personality. And his personality is unlikely to change. So now you need to motivate him to find solutions.

What your family needs is a plan, with a natural consequence. It sounds like getting a star is not consistently motivating enough for him (though it’s working well for your daughter). Is there an activity that he will have time for after his bedtime jobs are done if he’s quick about them, and will miss out on if he dawdles? Does he like some time to sit next to a parent and read? Talk? Play a (non-screen*) game?

  1. Decide on your motivator.
  2. Figure out how long these jobs take HIM on average (not his sister). After all, he is who he is! And comparing him to a sibling can only hurt their relationship.
  3. Explain the new situation to him.
    1. He starts his bedtime jobs at a certain time.
    2. Lights out is at a certain time.
    3. If he finishes by “X” o’clock he gets the fun activity.
    4. If he finishes by bedtime, no reward but also no negative consequence.
    5. If he’s late for bedtime, he starts the next night’s bedtime routine that much earlier.

If he’s a science-and-math person, he might want to chart the results so he can learn more about his own patterns and how to alter them.

What you’re teaching him is responsibility and resilience. He needs to know how to manage the world around him given his own inclinations!

Will you come back and let me know if this helps?


Parents, do you have a child who gets distracted by every bright, shiny object?

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