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The Focused Child

Parents who want support on focus and attention tend to fall into two camps:

1) My child can’t sit still! She seems to have a hard time focusing on one thing at a time.

2) I can’t get my kid to transition from one thing to the next! He gets stuck in one task or activity, and can’t seem to move on without a big fight.

Today I’ll speak briefly about the second….those children with deep focus that are hard to move forward.

There are some parents who have concern #1 who are rolling their eyes right now.
Oh, wow. I’m sorry your kid has “deep focus.” How tragic.  Should we start you a support group?

But the truth is, the child with deep focus does not always focus on school work, reading, or watching a sunset. They also focus deeply on their sock, taking 30 minutes to put it on. They focus deeply on the TV or video game, and throw a nuclear tantrum when it’s time to turn it off. They focus deeply on the bed sheet not feeling quite right, with a slight discrepancy that is undetectable by grown-up eyes, resulting in tears and anger, a late bedtime, and a very annoyed parent….

It’s not all fun and games, folks. It can be very frustrating when you’re trying to move through a morning routine.

Some children seem to have a kind of focus that is what I call “ten stories deep.” It’s as if they’ve taken the elevator down to some mysterious floor that I’m not welcome to. I’m here on the ground floor shouting down the elevator shaft that it’s time to stop playing Legos and clean up for dinner. But he only hears a distant murmur.

If this is your child or student, here’s what I’ve found works best:

1) Get Close
The child down the elevator shaft most certainly can’t hear you from the kitchen. If you’ve told her five times to go put on her shoes from across the room, those communications don’t count. Go over to her, squat down, give the message quietly right next to her body.

2) Touch
A great way to bring the elevator up a couple floors is to touch the child. A gentle hand on his back with a little rub, or a sweet tousle of the hair with your fingers can really help. It starts to bring the focus back in the room.

3) Be Calm, Be Positive
Try to keep your aggravation in check. Take a breath and relax a little bit. If you can be calm and positive, you’ve got a better shot of getting her attention. Who wants to come up the elevator to a fuming, angry parent? No thanks, I’ll stay down here.

4) Get IN before you pull them OUT
This is my favorite trick, and it really works!
Before you ask a focused child to stop whatever activity or task he’s doing, get into his world first….before you pull him out.

Here are some examples:

TV/Video Game

 (Sitting down or standing next to your child)

Parent: “Whoa, I like that guy’s car… I wish I had one like that.  How fast do you think it goes?”

Child: “I don’t know. Fast. Like a hundred.”

 Parent: “That’s crazy fast. Hey, when this show is over it’s time to turn it off and wash up.
Then I want to hear more about that other car there – it’ll be hard to decide which one I like best.”

Legos (or painting, or making mud pies, etc.)

 (Sitting down or standing next to your child)

Parent: “Hey, what’s that you’re making there? Looks like a castle. Is that right?”

 Child: “No, it’s a firehouse.”

 Parent: “Oh, right. Is that guy right there the fireman?

 Child: “Yeah. He’s got a special coat.”

 Parent: “I see that. Good thing….we want him to be safe. Hey, in two minutes we’ll need to leave this and come get some shoes on. In the car I want to hear about the fire he’s headed to.”


You’re taking the elevator down to their level first, and then coming up together. It just seems to work better that way for these kids. And remember….

 When children feel listened to and respected,
they are more likely to offer their own listening and respect in return.

It takes a bit of extra work on the front end, but what it allows for is the possibility of a smoother transition and less tears or anger…which is ultimately more efficient and takes less time.

So, bite the bullet and bring your best. It’ll get you in the car faster, I promise.

The Focused Child: News
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