Teaching the Distracted Child

by | Feb 2, 2015 | Life Skills | 5 comments

As if homeschooling isn’t enough of a challenge, teaching a distracted child who has trouble focusing is even harder.

Not all kids with ADD or ADHD have dyslexia but it is believed that about 40% of dyslexic kids have some sort of problem focusing.  I have shared in the past about how I overlooked one of our older kids’ severe ADD (inattentive type) because she wasn’t impulsive and hyperactive. You can read more about the common signs of ADD & ADHD and its relationship to dyslexia here ‘What Parents of Dyslexics Need to Know About ADD.

How to Teach the Distractible Child

A Day in the Life With ADD and ADHD

I am writing this post after correcting and redirecting one of my more particularly distracted children  so many times during our co-op last week that I came home with a pounding headache, jangling nerves and a pretty discouraged attitude.   It. was. exhausting.

I’m well acquainted with looking for outside the box solutions for my kids and so I set out to learn more about ADD and ADHD to find some new insights into what was triggering this child’s impulsive, wild behavior during our homeschool co-op class.

Determining the Trigger

Our fast-paced, interactive and hands-on co-op has little trouble keeping our son’s attention.  It fits the bill perfectly in most ways for methods for teaching a child with attention issues.  Our weekly co-op has many of the ideal elements for teaching a child with attention issues:

  • short lessons,
  • lots of hands-on activities,
  • music used for memorizing,
  • and discussion rather than writing and reading

What was happening, however, was that with all of the action, he was becoming over-stimulated and as such, acting out in impulsive ways like running around, falling on the ground, standing on chairs, hugging classmates too hard and too often.

For the child with attention and focus issues like ADD and ADHD having too much stimulation can be as bad (or worse) than not having enough stimulation (i.e. long periods of sitting, no opportunity to move, etc).

Common Causes of Over Stimulation

Sight.  Is their learning area too busy? Are there too many colors or things to see and look at?

This really wasn’t such a big deal in our son’s class.  Although the class is held in a room usually used for childcare at our local church, the workspace is clean and the area is not overly busy.

Sound.  Is the area too quiet or too loud? Some kids need quiet to concentrate.  Others learn better if there is some amount of background noise or music to block out the other noises.

This is definitely a trigger for our son during his weekly co-op class.  The kids have opportunity to get up and move frequently throughout the morning.  Much of the Classical Conversations memory work is learned through music, songs, chants and sign language.

Since I am in class with him every week, I have observed that for some of the kids this seems like an invitation to run, jump, slide, and twirl.  The very gifted teacher understands this need to move and allows for a certain amount of this.  However, our son has trouble refocusing after this ‘wiggle time’.

Textures.  This is becoming a more common issue, but are they bothered by the feel of their chair, their clothes? What can you work to control in this area?

Kids with focus issues are really struggling to balance the sensory input that they experience throughout the day.

Tips on Teaching Distractible Kids in Classes or Group Settings

Limit visual distractions. We all love the educational posters and visual reminders, but that could be overwhelming for your child.  When possible, try taking them down and see if that helps.

Visual distraction can occur on the page as well.  If your child is working a page of math facts, cover up all but the problem he or she is working on to avoid visual overload.

Give them a fidget. A fidget as a small toy or item your child can fiddle with to help them concentrate. They should be small, help the child to actually concentrate rather than cause more distraction, has to not distract the teacher or other kids and it has to not make noise.  For a list of inexpensive fidgets, see the fidget widget below.  🙂  Contains affiliate links.

Take breaks.   When our little power house gets too excited in our co-op, I don’t have the freedom to stop the class activities like I do at home, but I can take a walk outside with him.  Just a brisk walk around the building that houses our co-op fills his lungs with fresh air and empties the noise and busyness out of his little system.

Self awareness.  Talk with your kids about what things are distracting to them.  Talk with them about appropriate behavior before class.  Remind them of your conversation during class and go over your expectations after class.  Clear, concise instruction is key here.  No long lectures.  We are going to try some role playing this week.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Rewards and Consequences.  My work as a social worker with troubled kids before having my own children aught me well in the ways of behavior modification.  While I highly value the condition of my kids hearts (character) sometimes they just need better boundaries.

An example of how we use rewards and consequences:  For my 7-year old diamond in the rough, I draw 3 lines on our dry erase board every morning. If he complains about chores, schoolwork or serving in general, I give him a gentle reminder, “It sounds like you are complaining.”  If he doesn’t respond to this gentle correction, I remind him that he will lose a line if he continues.  If he loses 3 lines, he loses his 1 hour of iPad play.

This could be modified for any behavior issue that your child needs work on.

Resources to Learn More About the Distractible Child

As with any learning difficulty, it is super important to educate yourself on ADD and ADHD and how it affects your individual child.  I recommend all of the following ADD and ADHD resources because I have either read them myself or they have been recommended to me by someone that I respect and trust.



  1. Christine

    Great post! I have two boys with this–one inattentive type, and one hyperactive-impulsive type. It is exhausting and I use my share of Tylenol/caffeine headache pills, unfortunately. Is this seven year old the same young man in the sight word video? I just love that little guy! 🙂 He’s so cute I just wanted to squeeze the stuffing of him during that video.

    ADHD kids are engaging and so fun and sweet, but when they are in a group they often struggle. I am still not sure why, except that the stimulation must be overwhelming, as you stated. I have noticed when there are three kids playing in a group, my hyperactive/impulsive child competes for attention, causing unwanted behaviors. They are stimulated by being the center of attention and maybe that’s why they do so well as leaders?

    I remember when I taught first grade years ago before having my own children, I had a severely affected ADHD child who would sometimes have to go to the principal’s office just so I could get some teaching done with the other 22 kids in my class (after my trying several things to get him working). They thought he was engaging and charming in the office and didn’t understand how I could be so stressed by him in the classroom. One-on-one these kids often stand out as real stars. Unfortunately, when I was a classroom teacher I didn’t know about the link between dyslexia and attention disorders. He most likely had mild dyslexia, which made the work harder for him than I thought. I grieve now over what I didn’t understand in those teaching years.

    My eight year old with dyslexia may have dhd, but so far it’s mild. She is helped tremendously by being out in nature, where she looks for the glory of God in grasshoppers, ladybugs, tree frogs, etc. This is a calmer for my son as well.

    Have a blessed day! I always enjoy visiting you! You are a gem!

    • marianne

      Hi Christine. Yes! This is Ben. He loves to be the center of attention so he really enjoyed doing the videos with me. 🙂 I agree with everything you said. On his own Ben is amazing. Doing school one-on-one is also easy and fun. He also does well in a group if he is the helper and can get up and do things while the teacher is teaching. He has a lot of trouble in groups when the kids are busily moving around and especially if there is high energy music involved. Still trying to figure him out. Never had one quite like this before but he is for sure a natural born leader!

  2. Julie Chin

    Many children with ‘dyslexia’ – I prefer ‘dyslexia spectrum disorders’ – also suffer from visual stress. This can lead to ADD or ADHD behaviours because their environment is too overwhelming, particularly if fluorescent lighting is used.

    As an Irlen Syndrome screener I’ve witnessed some pretty amazing things. Children (and adults) tell me they ‘see’ an array of distortions, colours, movement, etc. when they focus or concentrate for any length of time. This can happen when they read or simply when they interact with their environment, for example going up and down stairs. Some of the physical symptoms we look for include constant yawning, rubbing eyes, not being able to sit still. Irlen Syndrome is certainly worthwhile looking into if you suspect your child has ADD or ADHD…. or dyslexia.

    irleninstitute.com and dyslexiaservices.com.au are two websites that I recommend to people. There are also some pretty amazing video testimonials on You Tube.

    Coloured lenses can change someone’s world. Look for a ‘screener’ in your part of the world.

  3. Tamra

    Thanks for sharing this information and ideas. Our boys have the same challenges at our CC classes so I am going to implement some of your ideas next week!

  4. Ashley Wright

    Just read your article and love the idea. About what time do breakfast, school start, snack time occur, end time, occur? One of the luxuries of homeschooling is to not have a full 6+hour school day and I have a friend who schools her older children for two hours in the morning and then she’s done.


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