Coaching The Inattentive Child

Coaching The Inattentive Child

A parent writes: Our eight year old son is extremely inattentive, often in “lala land” and seldom focused upon tasks and talking points. His friends are starting to call him “Random Ryan” and we are worried about his academic growth as well. Any suggestions?

Young children who struggle with a relentless drifting mind endure particular hardships. Disapproving glances from teachers, stern reproaches from parents and coaches, and mocking sneers from peers litter the landscape of their lives. Punitive measures to get them to pay attention may breed defensiveness and denial, and tend to meet with limited success. Self-esteem, academic growth and social relations are negatively impacted.

If your child suffers from the persistence of inattention consider these coaching tips to help them improve daily focus and efficiency:

 Begin with an description of your observations. Gently describe the “wonderful wandering mind” that leads them to interesting questions and opens up doors for their rich imagination to enter. Point out how easily memories come flooding back or how they randomly link what was heard with a piece of previous information. Explain how this fluid style of thinking is “like a single stream of water that widens its flow” t o include other streams that are connected in their mind but not within the minds of others. As these “thought streams” enter their mind they tend to speak them aloud and this is called “being random.” Suggest that this cycle is repeated too often and you would like to help them learn how to decrease it.

Introduce language that provides a platform to discuss and monitor the problem. One approach is to liken their inattention to “drifting doors” that “open on their own” in their mind. If there are obvious “routes of randomness” that their thoughts follow, have them envision the drifting doors as labeled with those categories. Challenge them to practice keeping the “doors closed” by not speaking aloud the thoughts that come to mind when having conversations. Engage them in discussions that typically trigger inattentiveness and praise their success with staying more focused.

 Engage your child in developing signals that assist them in improving their self-monitoring. Suggest that you could signal them with a short phrase or inconspicuous gesture. When your child displays their typical drifts in communication, prompt them with the signal but be sensitive to their feelings about pointing out their difficulties. Encourage them to do the same when a parent is talking to them so that they become more attuned to how inattention emerges in discussion.

Assist your child in learning how to strengthen their focus during discussions and task completion. Use cartoon frames on paper to demonstrate how key words appear in the talk bubbles of others and how they can “lock on” by repeating these words in their own thought bubble. Next, display how they can use those key words in the next frame when it is their turn to verbally respond. In the last frame display how others will be thinking of them as paying attention. To assist with staying on “track with tasks” challenge them to “deliver on time” with tasks around the house by referring to their watch (essential for inattentive kids) and redeeming challenge points with rewards/privileges.

Dr. Steven Richfield is an author and child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting. Contact him at 610-238-4450 or