Non-Medical Ways to Help an Inattentive Child

By Erica Loop
Help your child to pay attention at school.
Help your child to pay attention at school.

When your child can't seem to focus, it's tempting to step in and ask the pediatrician -- or a mental health professional -- for medication to mediate her behavior. Although pharmacological help can work in some situations, non-medical ways to help an inattentive child are often equally as effective. Depending on your child's age, using behavioral and communication-oriented strategies can help your child to focus herself and pay attention at home or in school.


Before choosing a specific strategy to help your child's attention-focusing problem, understanding what is and isn't normal for his age is key. Some behaviors may seem inattentive to you, but are actually typical for your child's age and developmental level. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, on their Healthy Children website, kids in the early grade school years and younger may have a perfectly normal amount of difficulty paying attention to something such as a story for a period of time such as 30 minutes, but should have the ability to complete a task such as playing a game with a like-aged peer without showing signs of distraction. An older child, according to the AAP, should have the attention-focusing skills to complete school-related tasks such as homework, follow directions and complete more complex games with other kids or adults.

Routines and Schedules

Whether your child is showing mild signs of inattentiveness or has an ADHD diagnosis, the AAP suggests using daily routines and a schedule to keep your child focused. Instead of piling up task on top of task -- which your inattentive child may find challenging to focus on -- break each day down into a similar routine of manageable activities. Additionally, adding in transition warnings can help to prepare your child for what's coming next. For example, set up a daily schedule for your fifth grader that includes breakfast time from 7 to 7:30 a.m., getting ready for school at 7:45 a.m., leaving for school at 8 a.m., homework time at 4 p.m. and dinner at 5:30 p.m.


Your inattentive child most likely doesn't just have issues when it comes to focusing on school work or finishing his homework without falling prey to distractions. Disorganization may also accompany inattentiveness and a lack of focus. When kids stop paying attention to what they are doing, or have trouble with a task, they may quickly become disorganized, misplace things or forget where they put important items such as a book report or a backpack. The pediatric pros at the KidsHealth website suggest that getting organized can help the inattentive child. For example, if your child has difficulty focusing for a long enough time in the mornings to gather everything that he will need for school, help him to get organized by designating a special place for his backpack and making a checklist for each day's necessities -- such as bringing gym clothes on Mondays or packing his library books on Wednesdays.

Rewards and Praise

Encourage the behaviors that you want, or expect, to see with praise and encouragement. Reward your child's mini-milestones when it comes to her attention-focusing with something simple such as a sticker chart. Instead of expecting your child to go from inattentive to well-focused overnight, set up a series of small steps -- or goals -- to help her build up this ability. When your child masters one of the steps, such as cleaning up her toys without walking away before she's done, praise her efforts and let her know how proud you are of her. It's more likely that you will see a repeat performance if she knows that she'll receive your praise -- and possibly a sticker -- when she meets your expectations.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.