THE BLOG
01/08/2015 11:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Trouble Focusing? New Checklist Can Help Parents Make Evaluations

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2015 is the year Americans are throwing out the adage of "resolutions" and replacing it with the beneficial term "habits." Why? Resolutions focus only on the end result; when that doesn't occur fast enough to be rewarding, we tend to give up. Making a small change to our daily habits and routines is much more likely to have a lasting and beneficial impact.

Were you one of the many parents who ended 2014 feeling a little concerned about their child's attention span? You're not alone. I received nearly 30 emails last month from parents who said they were frustrated by how easily their child seemed to "give up" or "just complain" during homework time. These parents were looking to make a change in 2015, but didn't know where to begin.

"Concentrated focus" is really the best place to start. It is one of the core chapters in the new book, The Learning Habit, based on three years of research out of Brown University School of Medicine. When kids have difficulty focusing on written or auditory material, sitting still for more than a few minutes, and waiting for their turn to speak -- school and homework are incredibly frustrating.

The ability to sit and focus, for a specific period of time, is a skill that can be developed. This skill requires some careful finesse in the way it is explained to children.

Question: Which explanation do think is going to get a better reaction from a six-year-old?

  1. Today we are going to work on your concentration and focus.
  2. I can't believe how much stronger you are this year! Remember how hard it was for you to carry your backpack last year? Your brain is the same way -- you can workout your brain like a muscle and it will actually get stronger. Wanna try it?
Children respond well to games. The idea that they are learning how to "work their brain" like a muscle and develop their "brain power" is pretty cool. It's not easy. It takes consistent, rewarding effort -- for both the child and the parent.

The problem many parents have previously encountered is twofold:

  1. They may not be "helping" their kids in a way that develops both skill and a sense of accomplishment in their child.
  2. In spite of all the effort, they are unable to see improvement!

The progress may well be there -- even at the beginning -- but it's hard to recognize. Now, however, we have a way to measure it. Developed by pediatric psychologist and researcher Dr. Robert M. Pressman The Pressman Focus Checklist was developed by Dr. Robert M. Pressman, who is the Director of Research for The New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, and specializes in pediatric psychology and family therapy. Dr. Pressman developed the reporting tool to give parents a meaningful way to measure their child's progress with attention and focus at both home and school.

The following tool has been excerpted from The Learning Habit:

THE PRESSMAN FOCUS CHECKLIST

On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 is rarely or never; 5 is frequently or always), how frequently does your child do the following:

1. Sit for a reasonable period of time without fidgeting, getting up and wandering, or checking their phone?
2. Perform a task requiring three or more steps without forgetting a step?
3. Self-soothe and return to the task when they become frustrated?
4. Complete a school assignment or a chore without giving excuses?
5. Work through a task without creating distractions?
6. Finish a game, when losing, without quitting or crying?
7. Complete a reading assignment and be able to verbalize what it was about?
8. Enjoy a quiet activity?
9. Go to bed at a regular time and stay in their own room all night?
10. Listen to instructions and accurately repeat them back?
11. Read for pleasure -- apart from assigned school reading -- every day?

Date_________ Total score________

Directions:
First, honestly rate your child on all the questions and keep a copy for your records. This will establish a baseline. As you and your child work together using the systems found in The Learning Habit you will see the total score gradually increase.

I've implemented several of the tactics found in chapter nine of The Learning Habit and found the breathing exercises worked especially well on question three for my youngest child.

If you are working patiently and consistently, and you don't see any improvement at all, it may be time to consult your pediatrician.