Help, my child can’t focus

By admin
09 March 2014

The mid-year exams are approaching fast. Here are useful tips to make learning easier for children with ADHD.

GETTING him to focus on his homework even for just an hour is a daily struggle. He’s easily distracted, fidgety and so active that sitting still to concentrate is not a simple matter for Ruane Beugger (13). It makes doing homework and studying especially challenging for the boy and his parents, Tia and Deon. “We have a homework strategy worked out. For instance if he’s particularly fidgety, I’ll ask him to fetch me a glass of water or let him run around outside for a while – that usually helps to get rid of some energy,” Tia says. Ruane, who’s in Grade 8, has symptoms typical of someone with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder): he’s hyperactive, easily distracted, forgets things easily, switches from one activity to the next all the time, becomes bored with a task after just a few minutes and struggles to follow instructions. Though he used to get very high marks in maths, which he loves, he experienced some problems at school in the past year which made them decide to switch to home schooling. “The past year we’ve just been focusing on getting a pass rate. Once we start home schooling, we’ll start anew with his love for maths.”

What makes Ruane’s situation even more tricky is that he’s part of a family of four who all suffer from ADHD. To stay focused they have to keep a noticeboard in their home, have a lot of reminders set and eat foods that don’t aggravate their ADHD symptoms. Mom Tia says keeping focused enough to get the kids through school successfully takes careful planning. Ruane’s sister Danielle (19) has just finished school and would like to study graphic design, but she faces similar problems to Ruane and is focusing on an online course in management for now. She also successfully completed a course in Photoshop.

Nicole Dickson is a mother, therapist and ADHASA (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Support Group of Southern Africa) branch co-ordinator for the East Rand. One of the most important things children living with ADHD need is structure, says Nicole, who  agrees with Tia and Deon’s approach. “Structure means concrete, practical tools such as lists, reminders, simple filing systems, diaries, goals and daily planning. These can greatly reduce the inner chaos of a life with ADHD and improve not only productivity but the child’s sense of control,” Tia says.

Tia and Nicol offer the following tips on how parents and teachers can help ADHD-affected children excel.


At home

  • Get a notice board. Focusing is a challenge for the Beuggers so a notice board comes in handy. They use it to help them remember things such as events, homework and to-do lists.
  • Help your child with reading, writing and basic maths at home as it will improve their confidence. “We taught Ruane to read by giving him things he likes to read. As long as he learns, it doesn’t matter if he’s reading Star Wars or comic books!” Tia says.
  • Find their passion. “Children with ADHD should be encouraged to discover and develop skills and interests they enjoy and are good at,” Nicole says.
  • Help them master easy study methods, such as making mind maps – especially if they’re at high school.
  • The right study space is important. It should be completely clear of clutter and other distractions – not the dining room table! Have a flip chart in this space so they can make notes that are highly visible. Even better is if the child can get up and write on the board – it helps to get them moving.
  • Don’t worry if they move. Many people learn better by moving – it doesn’t mean they’re not concentrating. Give them a ball to sit on or let them walk up and down while they recite schoolwork.

At school

  • “Find a school that is willing to work with your child to master his challenges and help with his specific needs, especially if there is a subject he particularly enjoys,” says Tia.
  • Find a friend. “If your child has ADHD ask the school to put them next to a calmer child, someone who’s responsible and can even help check they write down their homework,” Tia says. She says this  has helped Ruane.
  • Establish your child’s main needs and let go of what isn’t a big deal. “Danielle just needs to be  called back to attention every now and again, and then she stays focused for a while.”
  • Let them get rid of excess energy. Tell their teachers to give the child small tasks to do if they get fidgety, such as taking a message to another teacher.
  • Get active! Sport helps children to get rid of excess energy and gives them a chance to make friends. One-on-one sports, martial arts and yoga are good options.


  • Be flexible. “It’s important for parents to be prepared to adapt their ways of thinking and learning rather than to expect the child battling with ADHD to conform to unhelpful ways of doing things,” Nicole says.
  • Build a close relationship with the child so they feel confident to tell you what they struggle with so you can help them.
  • Help them relax. One often tells kids to do more, but spend time teaching them to relax their bodies and minds and shut off. If they can do this they’ll be able to concentrate better when they “switch on” again.
  • Be aware of bullying. A child who’s stressed at school struggles twice as much to concentrate and ADHD-affected kids are sometimes more prone to anxiety and stress.
  • Win their trust. “People with ADHD are extra-sensitive about how others treat them. Children need to know the teacher won’t humiliate them about work they struggle with or if they can’t focus. Once they trust the teacher and caregiver things will go smoother,” Tia says.


Food can play a big role in managing ADHD.

  • Stay away from food with colorants, sugary fizzy drinks and junk foods as they can increase hyperactivity.
  • The lower glycaemic index (GI) of foods with protein helps them stay focused for longer.
  • Maintain a high level of omega 3, 6 and 9 oils. “This is essential for optimal brain function. Without it you can’t function,” Tia says. Other sources are oily fish such as salmon, raw nuts (but not peanuts), olive oil and avocados.
  • Keep a food diary to see if your child has “trigger” foods that aggravate their symptoms, such as  sugar or preservatives. Each child is affected differently and this will help you learn what to avoid.

Did you know?

Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Bell, Albert Einstein, Beethoven, Mozart and Walt Disneyare some of the people reported to have lived with the effects of ADHD.

- Dalena Theron

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