Child Temperaments, Distractibility & Behavior

If you have more than one child, you've probably noticed how different each child can be. Although parenting and environment play an important role, your child is born with innate traits, including temperament and personality, that are usually fixed for life. Distractibility and focus are among these traits. Your job is to understand and accept your child's temperament and help your child learn the skills for optimizing those traits.

Innate Temperament

From infancy, some children are more active and distractible than others. As an infant, your child may have rolled over or walked early. Distractible toddlers are often constantly on the go, as they climb on counter tops or scramble out of high chairs. They may flit from one activity to another or wiggle during diaper changes and baths. Your older distractible child probably needs repeated reminders to get dressed or complete homework. These behaviors are part of your child's innate temperament, according to the Zero to Three website, and while they might drive you crazy at times, they make your child unique 1.

Genetic Factors

In some cases, distractibility is an inherited tendency, just like eye and hair color. Distractibility is a common trait in people diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 5. Researchers at Cardiff University in Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom have found DNA variations in 15 percent of study subjects diagnosed with ADHD. Numerous other studies confirm that ADHD seems to run in families, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 5. An easily distractible child doesn't necessarily have ADHD, but if you or your partner has trouble focusing, your child may have inherited that tendency.

Environmental Conditions

Some environmental conditions are known to contribute to a child's distractibility, according to Dr. David Walsh, author of "Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids." The bright lights and constantly changing images found on television, video games and other media encourages development of the reactionary, or "fight or flight" part of the brain, rather than the part of brain devoted to focused attention 6. Limit television in favor of activities that build sustained focus, such as reading, puzzles and blocks or stackable toys. Plenty of opportunities to play outdoors can also improve focus, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Their study focused specifically on children and adults diagnosed with ADHD. In the study, subjects who regularly spent time outdoors experienced a significant reduction of symptoms. Even if your distractible child doesn't have ADHD, playing outside will likely improve focus.

Supporting the Distractible Child

Our culture tends to value focused, quiet behavior, but distractibility has some surprising benefits, according to Dr. Shelley Carson, author of "Your Creative Brain." She asserts that distractible people are often highly intelligent and creative 2. Because distractible people notice details missed by others, they can make connections between seemingly unrelated bits of information and find creative solutions to problems. Try to embrace your child's innate tendencies and find ways to harness those traits. Most distractible children need lessons in time management and organization. Charts and to-do lists can help keep them on task. At the same time, offer engaging, hands-on learning opportunities that build, rather than stifle, creativity.