Understanding Your Child’s Trouble With Focus

By The Understood Team

At a Glance

  • Many kids struggle with focus.
  • Ongoing trouble with focus isn’t about being lazy or rude.
  • You can help your child get better at focusing.

Sometimes, just being a kid can make it hard to focus. There are so many distractions. Other kids laughing out in the hallway when you’re in class. Friends texting when you’re cleaning out your backpack.

So, if your child zones out at school or at home from time to time, it wouldn’t be unusual. But what if that happens a lot?

If your child has a hard time focusing, you might be wondering why, and whether it’s something to look into.

Learn about trouble with focus and concentration, and how it can impact kids of all ages.

Focus Challenges You Might Be Seeing

Having trouble with focus doesn’t mean kids have a “problem.” But it can definitely cause problems in school and in everyday life.

For example, kids might be late for practice a lot. They might not finish work in class or may struggle to finish their homework. Maybe their room’s always messy because they never get around to cleaning it.

That’s often what people notice first—the result, not the behavior. And they may wrongly assume that kids are being lazy or defiant.

Focus challenges are real. It doesn’t mean that kids aren’t working hard or aren’t intelligent. It also doesn’t mean they’re not interested in something, even if it seems that way. Kids may want to focus on something, but just not manage to do it.

Trouble with focus can show up in many ways. And it can change over time. Kids might have a hard time:

  • Knowing when to focus on small details and when to focus on the bigger picture
  • Filtering out unimportant sights, sounds, or information
  • Paying attention without getting distracted
  • Holding a train of thought when they’re interrupted
  • Following through on a task without needing to hear directions a few times
  • Concentrating on one activity at a time
  • Following directions
  • Keeping up in conversation

Some kids who struggle with focus may look like they’re daydreaming. Others may seem like they’re focusing even when they’re not. And some can actually become super focused on things they’re passionate about, like sports, video games, politics, or music.

What Can Cause Trouble With Focus

Sometimes, kids have a hard time focusing because of something going on in their lives right now. It could be as simple as a fight with a friend or excitement over a birthday party.

Being hungry can make it hard to focus. The same goes for lack of sleep. When kids are sleep-deprived, they can be easily distracted and more likely to make errors.

Stress and anxiety can also be a factor. When kids go through stressful situations, like a move or a death in the family, it can affect focus.

But when kids have ongoing trouble with focus, there may be something else behind it. ADHD is a common cause of focus problems.

ADHD often runs in families. Are there people in your family who struggle with focus? Maybe they interrupt a lot or start projects and never seem to finish them. If you or another close family member struggles with focus, it wouldn’t be surprising if your child did, too.

No matter what’s causing your child’s trouble with focus, there are lots of ways to help your child improve.

What Can Help Kids Who Struggle With Focus

There are many ways to help your child with focus. Taking notes on what you’re seeing at home is a good place to start. It can give you a better idea of why your child might be struggling.

If there’s a pattern that goes on for a while, you may want to talk to someone. Two great sources of information and advice are your child’s teacher and doctor. They may have suggestions for how you can help.

Even if you’re not sure what’s going on with your child and focus, you can still work on building skills at home.

One of the most important things you can do is let your child know that having trouble with focus is common and nothing to be ashamed of. Remind your child that everyone struggles with something—and that’s OK. Talk about the strengths your child has.

It’s also important to be open about your child’s difficulties. Get tips for how to talk about trouble with focus.

If you’re concerned your child might have ADHD, see next steps. It might involve having your child evaluated for ADHD. You and your child’s doctor can talk about where to go from there.

Key Takeaways