‘Help! My Son Can’t Concentrate’

Advice for a worried mom: Get kids outside and cut down on screen time

I’ve watched parents raise children for 30 years (and raised four of my own), so I know how hard it is. Here, I share a question that came to me as a pediatrician, as well as my answer to this parent.

I hope this is instructive for other moms and dads who may have wanted to ask the very same question and who will appreciate some guidance on this issue.

Dear Dr. Meg,
My 9-year-old son has always had tons of energy and still moves around a lot. He gets good grades in school, but he has a hard time concentrating on homework, which causes it to take much longer than it should. His teachers notice that he sometimes spaces out in class.

He also has a hard time concentrating on other activities, such as playing basketball or practicing his saxophone. We had him tested for ADHD last year, but he did not fit the criteria. Any suggestions?

Fidgety Fourth-Grader’s Mom

Dear Fidgety,
Your son may simply be highly energetic. If he isn’t disturbing classmates, getting into trouble at school or picking fights — and he’s getting good grades — you’re in great shape. Many times, boys with ADHD do these things and these are certainly behaviors that you want to curb.

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Here’s what I recommend for your energetic young boy. First, make sure he gets as much time outside as possible. He needs to run, to get tired and to get sunshine. Talk with his teacher and ask her to not take away his recess time as punishment for acting up in class. He may never get in trouble, but do this to be on the safe side. Make sure you find ways to get him outside for at least an hour a day.

Second, you must limit his video, television and screen time. This is important for two reasons. First, it actually makes focusing harder for him. Sure, your son can follow fast action scenes on the screen, but he’s testing his reaction skills. When he goes to read black words on a white page that don’t jump or sing, he’ll have a hard time concentrating. Also, when he’s watching a screen, he’s sitting. He needs to move! Make him move.

Third, make sure there is a clear rhythm to his day. He needs to get up at the same time each day, eat dinner at the same time, go to bed at the same time, etc. Children who are high energy (and children with attention issues) do poorly with chaotic schedules. They need rhythm and routine.

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Finally, encourage him to do projects with his hands. Find him things to build, mold or cut. The bigger the project, the better. He probably has strong gross motor skills, so put them to use. This is the best way to help him channel all that energy into something positive and creative. You can’t curb his energy, and you certainly don’t want to change his personality.

What you do want to do, however, is teach him over the years how to take his abundant energy and make it work for him, not against him.

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids,” part of The Strong Parent Project.

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meet the author

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the book “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing), along with a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.

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