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Attention Problems and Children  

This month starts a new series on parenting and children. Over the next few months I will be focusing on attention problems. We will look at some of general principles that go along with attention difficulties, some misconceptions about them, and some things parents can do to help their children who have attention difficulties. Finally, recognizing that parenting children with attention difficulties can be very challenging, we will look at some things parents can do to take care of themselves better.

Most people are familiar with or have at least heard the acronyms ADD or ADHD. These are the diagnoses that get attached to children with problems that arise primarily because of their difficulties with attention. They stand for Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity. The primary difficulty for such children is with their ability to direct their attention consciously. They tend to be easily distracted when they try to focus and tend to have difficulty focusing in general for periods of time. Some, but not all, also have greatly elevated levels of activity. That is where the hyperactivity comes in.

There is a good deal of debate about the diagnosis and cause of ADHD. The percentage of children diagnosed seems to have gone up over time. Some say that is because of an increase in the disorder, some that diagnosis is just getting better, and some that it is over diagnosed. There is certainly a wide range of behavioral activity and ability to focus attention in normal children, and quite frankly, energy and activity is often a sign of a healthy child. I’m not going to get into the debate here about appropriate diagnosis, etc., but will suggest that if you as a parent are challenged by your child’s difficulty with attention, you should find the tips in these articles helpful whether your child qualifies for a formal diagnosis or not. I will also say that while different parenting techniques may be more or less effective with attention problems, poor parenting does not cause them. There is good evidence of a strong neurobiological component to attention difficulties.

Next month I will start to talk about some of the factors that drive attention problems and how to start to make sense of them.