On this track, we will focus on children who are being defined as "difficult" because they exhibit symptoms of ADD or ADHD.
However, these conditions are actually behavioral rather than genetic. For example, the child is exhibiting a very short attention span, when in the past he or she has exhibited a normal attention span. So, what technique could you provide the parents for the that is being defined as difficult, who is exhibiting a less than normal short attention span?
If you decide to take a behavioral approach with the parents, here’s a technique regarding Shaping Attentional Styles. This will include the Sharing Attention, and Recognizing the Fear of Failure.
Noah and Sybil came to me regarding their son Cody, age 5. Sybil stated, "And it extends to memory as well. I told him to stop playing Nintendo and clean up his room once, when we were going to have company over, and when I re-entered the room, ten minutes later, it still wasn’t clean. I realize this is normal behavior for most kids. However, I asked him about it, and he flatly denied that I had ever asked him to clean up his room.
"This sort of thing happens a lot. Where I will tell him to do something, and he will deny I ever told him! Sometimes, he’s so difficult to deal with because his attention span seems to be zero, and I worry that he doesn’t register what anyone says…You don’t think he’s got ADD or ADHD or something like that, do you? He starts kindergarten soon, and both Noah and I would like to know how we can help him focus."
Clearly, at age 5, Cody might have ADD or ADHD. However, upon further discussion with Noah and Sybil, he did not meet the criteria for this disorder at this time. Therefore, I felt a behavioral intervention was the next best therapeutic strategy. I suggested the following two-step attention-focusing technique.
Step 1 - Sharing Attention
I stated, "First, let’s discuss sharing attention with Cody. One of the best things you can do to help focus Cody’s attention is to engage in joint activities with him. You might try reading books with him, though you don’t have to expect him to pick up how to read from this joint process. At first, he’ll probably be more interested in the pictures than the actual story. The goal would be to simply foster Cody’s attention within a sharing relationship.
"Every cooperative project like reading or some other activity, carried to some sort of completion promotes Cody’s focused attention, as well as providing him with a continuity of experience, and a natural sense of completion. Since our multimedia world seems designed to disrupt continuous experience, the everyday sharing of activities like reading or perhaps building a Lego tower with him, between parent and child works to counter this disruptive trend."
Step 2 - Recognizing Fear of Failure
Both Noah and Sybil seemed receptive to the sharing attention idea to help focus Cody’s attention. Therefore, I felt providing them with information regarding fear of failure would be helpful. I stated, "Let’s discuss fear of failure. As with many children his age, what may be really happening is that as soon as Cody experiences frustration or failure, like his Lego tower falls apart or a toy doesn’t work properly, when he feels frustration, he quits. Or as soon as he even anticipates failure, he’s through with that toy or that task and off to something new."
Noah and Sybil stated they had observed this pattern repeatedly of starting into an activity for a moment or two, then stopping it in frustration only to start a different activity and have the same thing happen. Sybil burst into tears at this point in the session, and exclaimed, "My God, he almost seems spastic! I just don’t feel this is normal! How will he ever succeed in school?!"
Sybil asked, "What can be done when this happens?" I stated, "You might take a toy that you know is already broken, say a Lego helicopter that won’t quite attach to another Lego structure. You might give it to Cody to play with."
Noah stated, "But as soon as he realizes the helicopter doesn’t work, he’ll throw the helicopter at me, and be off to something else…" I stated, "Yes, and when that happens, you might say, ‘Is it my fault that the helicopter won’t attach?’ Cody might agree that it isn’t, and then you can bring him back to his toppled Lego tower. You might say, ‘Give this another try. I think you can make this work.’"
Noah asked, "So, you think it’s genuine discouragement, not a true lack of ability to focus?" I stated, "Children do abandon toys or activities because they’re genuinely not interested. I realize Cody is only 5, however often, they almost spastically move on from one activity to the next because of frustration or a sense of failure. I have found that often children who feel like failures also may feel like no one wants to spend time with them. This can set up a vicious cycle in which Cody takes control of the anticipated rejection by distancing himself or by making himself eminently rejectable through his behavior, like throwing the helicopter at you."
Sibyl stated, "So, by bringing Cody back to his abandoned Legos, he can be helped to complete his tower with a sense of accomplishment?" I stated, "Or demonstrate why the challenge was impossible in the first place. Either way, you will have intervened to break a pattern of giving up out of frustration while extending and refocusing Cody’s attention."
On this track, we have discussed Shaping Attentional Styles. This included the Sharing Attention, and Recognizing the Fear of Failure.
On the next track, we will discuss Communication and Children’s Responsibility. This will include Depersonalizing, Discrediting Elective Behavior and Always Giving 100% Credit.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Ellmers, T. J., & Young, W. R. (2019). The influence of anxiety and attentional focus on visual search during adaptive gait. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 45(6), 697–714.
Flavell, J. H., Green, F. L., & Flavell, E. R. (1995). The development of children's knowledge about attentional focus. Developmental Psychology, 31(4), 706–712.
Rusby, J. C., Metzler, C. W., Sanders, M. R., & Crowley, R. (2015). Emulating real-life situations with a play task to observe parenting skills and child behaviors. Journal of Family Psychology, 29(2), 201–210.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
What are 2 ways to shape a child’s attention?
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