Are You Done Yet? How Parents Can Help Their Easily Distracted Child


If your child is easily distracted and struggles to stay focused and finish homework, you are probably a frustrated parent! For some students, homework that should take 45 minutes ends up consuming two hours regardless of a parent’s cajoling and handholding. The good news is there is a better way to help these students.


Recognize the Consistently Inconsistent Pattern

One frustrating aspect of parenting easily distractible children (whether they’re hyperactive, inattentive, or a bit of both) is that they are consistently inconsistent. Some days they toil like a well-oiled machine. Other days they are like an old out-of-sync grandfather clock. Chil­dren with attention difficulties really want to sustain focus, but no matter how hard they try, they can’t always maintain it. Punishing inattentive behavior doesn’t work. Through the use of positive reinforcement and a few creative ideas, you can help your distracted child improve focus and get his work done.


Make a Mountain a Molehill

Depending on the age of your child, he may only be able to focus well for 20 minutes at a time. Often, the time you spend refocusing his efforts after 20 minutes may be better spent giving him a break so he can recharge and begin again. This can be done in two ways – by task or time.

By task – Fold a worksheet in half.  Instruct your child to do the top half, show it to you, and then finish the second half. Allow him to choose the problems or questions he wants to do first. When he’s done with half of them, go on to the rest.

By length of time – Set the timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes. Tell your child, “Work as hard as you can for this time. When the timer goes off, you can daydream or play for 5 minutes.” Another option is to set the timer for a length of time for which you absolutely know he’ll be successful. When he succeeds, lengthen the span by a minute.


Keep a Homework Log

Teachers may be unaware that homework is so problematic because they only see the final, corrected product, not the inordinate amount of effort behind it. For at least one week, jot down the date and length of homework. You may also want to document any rea­sons you see for your child’s homework struggles. Meet with the teacher and share the information you’ve re­corded. Ask for suggestions to help your child accomplish homework tasks. Remember, students should be spending about 10 minutes per grade level on homework per night.


Let Her Fidget

Various studies have shown that distractible students can actually be more attentive when they are given something to hold or touch. A few good options are the Tangle Junior (, Wikki Stix (, or even a simple stress ball. By simply manipulating these toys in their hands, students are better able to focus.


Insist On Exercise – The Miracle Drug

Aerobic exercise almost immediately elevates the chemicals in the brain that increase attention and focus. These chemicals act a bit like Ritalin or other medications used to treat ADHD.  With frequent aerobic exercise, a distractible student can improve his ability to learn, so be sure to encourage your child to get out and exercise regularly.

With a few of these strategies, your child will be on the road to focusing and finishing in no time at all!



Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring and Test Prep in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make learning less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at or