Why We Struggle to Hold Attention In The Classroom

Are you constantly hearing your child’s teachers tell you that your child needs to pay attention in class? For some, they might add that they are ‘a sweet kid’ while others are seeing the words ‘distraction to others’.


I understand that all too well. As a matter of fact, for whatever reason, my mom kept my report cards, and time after time I am seeing that my attention needs work. I’ve even attached some of these to this post.


Maintaining focus is hard work for an ADHD kiddo. We have so many things at play making it difficult for us to maintain focus. Our impulses, distractions, and effort are three main reasons we struggle to hold attention when the teacher is talking.

What do we do about this? The game-changer is self-awareness. Many times, we don’t know what is taking our attention away from the lesson being taught, much less, strategies to help us improve.


Over the next few days, I will dive further into impulses, distractions, effort, and self-awareness to help you better understand our inattention in the classroom.


One of the biggest obstacles for an ADHD student is distractions. There are two different types of distractions that can direct our attention from the task at hand. Those are internal distractions and external distractions.


Internal distractions are thoughts and emotions that we are unable to control. Have you ever been consumed by your emotions? Have you had those thoughts that hype you up and you can’t stop thinking about it?


When I was in High School, I remember we had this big volleyball game against one of the best teams in the state. I was so excited about this game that for the entire school day, it took my attention away from my teachers. In my head, I was going through every scenario from how we would walk out on the floor to which direction I was going to hit the ball to get it past their blockers. Unfortunately for me, we had a test in history that day, I rushed through it ready to get back to my exciting thoughts.


Last week, I mentioned that when we were learning our times tables, whoever got a high grade on the quiz would get ice cream on Friday. I never got the ice cream. That made me embarrassed and sad. So, when Friday came, I was spending the whole day worrying about what my classmates will think when they see that I didn’t get ice cream. I was unable to direct my attention towards the lesson being taught that day.


We can control our internal distractions but for many with ADHD, it is a skill not yet developed. Our inability to control those thoughts and emotions leads us to mentally be somewhere else when we should be focused on the teacher.


External distractions are the buzzing light, ticking clock, people in the hallway, cars driving by…. Oh, look a squirrel! Sometimes we can control these and other times we cannot. External distractions can pose two problems for us. The first being that it takes our attention away from the task at hand. The second is that we don’t know how to return our attention back to the class.


When we see that squirrel outside the window. We direct our attention to the squirrel. We either spend an enormous amount of time watching the squirrel try to crack open the nut. Or, watching the squirrel try to crack open the nut reminds us of trying to open the peanut butter jar this morning which makes us think about how hungry we are which leads to us dreaming about chic-fil-a after school which reminds us that mom is picking us up late… the cycle is never-ending!


The best thing to do in overcoming either type of distraction is to build our self-awareness!


Acting before we think is the only way those of us with a lack of impulse control know how to be. In the classroom, this can show up as blurting out, not keeping our hands to ourselves, and breaking things.


There is always that one kid in school who pulls the fire alarm. Odds are, that kid has ADHD with impulsivity.


A child who struggles with impulsivity in the classroom comes home frequently, having gotten in trouble in school. Yet, the behaviors continue to happen day after day.

Why is this? We do not know how to think before we act. As Dr. Hallowell put it, we have a Ferrari brain with the breaks of a bicycle. We need to learn the skills to slow our brain down to be in a place where we think before we act.