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Attention Problems V - Parental Advisory

I’m going to start this section of the series on attention problems in children with a parental advisory. You might not want to read what I am going to say because if you buy into it, it may push you toward a lot of effort and hard work. I’m going to talk about things that aren’t very often talked about in treatment of attention problems. I think part of that is because they are things that are not easy. They require work for parents and the reward is not likely to be immediately obvious. The subject is developing skills in the areas where children with attention problems have deficits. We might call this brain building skills. In this country almost all treatment for attention problems is either medication or behavioral therapy. We will get to some behavioral therapy principles that can be helpful later, but I start with the ideas in this article because the earlier they are implemented, the more long term impact they will have. Frankly, parents helping with brain building skills will help any child, but it is particularly important for those children with attention problems.  

The idea is to engage your child in activities that stretch the capacity of their brain in areas where they have weaknesses. Remember, executive function is a big thing talked about with attention problems, particularly problems with working memory (how much information can be kept in the mind) and response inhibition (the ability to choose what to focus on out of the myriad of stimuli present at any time). The challenge in helping children develop these skills is to create skill building activities that are engaging for children. Turning them into a game can help, as can seizing upon opportunities to incorporate such skills into daily activities. 

To help with working memory parents can create games like giving a child a list of words and then seeing how many they can remember after doing a different activity for a few minutes. They can make a game of asking children to do things, such as saying, ”Please make your bed, brush your teeth, and put your homework in your backpack. I asked you to do three things. Let’s see how many of them you can remember.”

For response inhibition they might play a game with a child by seeing who can find the most red things in the room in the next thirty seconds. The challenge for parents is to keep the interactions light and fun, to notice and praise the demonstration of the skills they are thinking about, and to figure out how to create the challenge so that it is difficult, but doable for the child, increasing difficulty as skills develop.

Yeah, I know. It sounds like a lot of work. It is a lot of work. But it might be work that gives a child with attention challenges just the boost they need to make a better go of it in life. 

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