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10 Ways You Can Help Your Attention-Challenged Student Navigate Academia

Mother and daughter reading a book together at home

Attention-challenged students include those who have any form of ADD or ADHD, as well as learners who are experiencing attention and listening difficulties but may not meet the criteria for a diagnosis. These students may experience challenges in their ability to focus, pay attention in the middle of distractions, and retain or remember information provided to them verbally.

How can parents help their child navigate these obstacles and achieve their educational goals and potential? Our 10 tips will help your child cope with attention difficulties in the classroom.

Why Do These Students Sometimes Struggle in a Traditional Classroom?

Supporting attention-challenged students is certainly possible in a traditional classroom setting, with concentrated attention and motivated teachers who understand these unique learners. All too often, however, the resources and one-to-one focus that help attention-challenged students thrive are not always available.

Some of these young people experience challenges like these in a traditional large classroom environment:

  • Being perceived as disruptive, oppositional, or disengaged, perceptions which might follow them from grade to grade
  • Lower grades, lower self esteem, and less satisfaction with their educational experience
  • Having difficulty completing assignments on time, following directions, or meeting deadlines given verbally
  • Procrastinating or leaving what are intended to be long-term assignments until the last minute, leading to additional frustration and stress
  • Having consistent difficulty paying attention, sitting still for long periods of time, controlling impulses to move, or concentrating on lectures

What Can Parents Do to Help Attention-Challenged Students Thrive?

There are many ways for parents to help their child navigate these challenges of academia and learn vital skills that will help them succeed, not only in middle or high school, but through college and into their chosen careers. These 10 tips can help you guide your child into empowering habits and techniques that will help them cope with attention challenges at school.

1. Establish Daily Routines

Routines are natural support structures that help us all achieve more with less mental effort. Doing the same essential tasks at the same time or in the same order can help those with ADD or ADHD feel a daily sense of accomplishment. These established routines also limit the amount of reminding that parents need to do about basic daily tasks.

Daily routines can be visual or written down and might include:

  • Established times for self-care, meals, homework, entertainment, medication if needed, and adequate sleep
  • Setting out clothing, backpacks, and completed homework the night before
  • Easing into necessary changes to daily routines and acknowledging the value of making positive changes in life habits
  • Pairing or partnering with a sibling or classmate who will follow the same routine

2. Set Achievable Goals with Regular Rewards

Young people with attention and learning difficulties find large and long-term assignments and goals challenging. Learning how to break long-term tasks into smaller, more manageable goals is an empowering life skill. Your child might need help and motivation to practice this technique effectively, but it will serve them well, now and in the future.

Using a visual aid like a wall chart or calendar, actively engage your child in the thought process of breaking a large task into its essential parts, and in what order they should be completed. It can be helpful to offer choices and options to engage their creativity while encouraging organized planning.

Using a reward system for each completed task helps build excitement and motivation. These earned privileges or treats are not bribes because they encourage and reward positive behaviors, rather than paying for the absence of negative behavior.

3. Take Control of Distractions

The modern world is full of distractions we all must manage. Television and the internet are filled with messages that are deliberately intended to seize our attention and distract us from whatever we were intending to do. Video games, smart phones, and tablets actively encourage impulsivity and should likely be limited to certain hours of the day for those who struggle with attention challenges. At Lydian, we have the option of both physical textbooks or virtual learning to best service the student.

In a classroom environment, there are many distractions that cannot be avoided. Noises, windows, and the conversations or movements of other students can make it difficult to focus. Ask questions about what distracts them at school, and encourage them to speak to their teacher or an aide on a regular basis to make sure they understand and have written down details of assignments and important deadlines.

4. Encourage Abundant Exercise and Rest

Asian father & son playing basketball in garden in morning

Physical activity provides a positive outlet for the focus, passion, and energy of students with attention challenges. Many professional athletes have the characteristics or diagnosis of ADHD and have successfully put their energy and drive into sports or fields like yoga, dance, or martial arts.

Adequate sleep on a regular schedule is also part of the focus on self-care that benefits anyone facing life challenges. Scheduling exercise early in the day can help a student focus for the remainder of the day, and another opportunity to burn off some energy a few hours before bed can help a young person sleep better.

At school, communicate with teachers and staff to make sure that your child’s day includes opportunities to move around as part of learning and that recess or gym times are not taken away as a punishment for unwanted behaviors. Taking away opportunities for attention-challenged students to exercise is unlikely to help them control their attention difficulties in the classroom; in fact, the opposite is almost certain to be the case.

5. Actively Manage Impulsivity

Impulsivity is the natural tendency to act or speak as soon as something occurs to you, before thinking about consequences or potential dangers. Adolescents are naturally impulsive. Learning impulse control is an essential part of mental maturity. Students with attention challenges are especially prone to impulsive behavior.1

Parents can help children gain control over their impulses by:

  • Teaching an intentional pause before speaking—a habit of taking a moment to consider if what they are going to say is timely, thoughtful, and useful. This helps them avoid interrupting or disrupting conversations or instruction while valuing their input and engagement.
  • Encouraging them to verbalize their thoughts and reasoning before taking action, which might be as simple as saying “I want to go look at something for my science project” or “I need to get up and move around for a few minutes” rather than simply running off to do so.
  • Discussing incidents of interrupting, restlessness, difficulty paying attention, or disruptive behavior as learning opportunities, addressing contributing factors and talking about ways to use the intentional pause and meaningful communication to better navigate these situations in the future.

6. Foster and Demonstrate Organization

Help your student organize and prioritize as a way to succeed in school and in life. Visual aids and organizational tools can be extremely helpful in supporting attention-challenged students. Some organizational ideas to consider include:

  • A calendar of assignments and activities, featuring the breakdown of long-term tasks and the associated rewards
  • Color coding to keep subjects and projects together and visually compelling
  • A dry erase or bulletin board with important dates, reminders, and the daily routine
  • Multi pocket binders, files, electronic reminders, and any other systems that appeal to your child
  • Setting reminders for yourself regarding teacher conferences, exam dates, and assignment deadlines
  • Making use of teacher portals or other communication methods to make sure you know about upcoming projects and any late or missed work

7. Establish Dedicated Workspace

Young people with attention and learning difficulties often benefit from having a place that is free of distractions and dedicated to their homework and projects. The best place may not be in their own room if it is filled with other things that might pull their focus away. Ideally, their homework station should:

  • Face a wall rather than a window
  • Have white noise to help drown out other sounds
  • Feature lighting that is focused on the work surface and not overly bright
  • Be off limits to siblings and unnecessary interruptions
  • Allow for 20-30 minutes of focused work with 10-minute breaks in between
  • Have tools that help the student to keep their project and assignment work organized

8. Communicate and Advocate with Your School

As the parent of an attention-challenged student, you may need to be active in advocating for any accommodations your child might need. Certainly regular communication with teachers and providing feedback in both directions might be essential to your child’s success. Some common accommodations made for students with ADD or ADHD are:

  • Developing plans to allow students to catch up or make up on missed work
  • Additional time on tests, quizzes, and exams
  • Assistance in taking notes or providing notes on lectures
  • Breaking long-term projects into segments with separate due dates and grades
  • Daily or weekly status reports from your child’s teachers
  • Administering prescribed medications
  • An IEP or 504 plan as needed

9. Considering a More Individualized Approach to Education

Not every environment is a good fit for every student. If you find that your attempts at advocacy are met with resistance or lack of resources, you might consider a change of schools. Similarly, if, despite these efforts and partnering with your child’s teachers, they still continue to struggle in a large class environment, there are many alternatives available.

A small group or one-on-one approach can fully focus on the strengths, energy, and passion of those who might also have attention challenges. Virtual learning or in-person instruction that is tailored to the interests and abilities of each young person can eliminate the distractions and stresses of traditional classrooms and foster the love of learning and personal achievement that should also be a natural part of adolescence.

10. Believe in Yourself and Your Child

Your determination to help your child succeed and overcome life’s challenges is unshakeable. Having faith in their abilities will help you to recognize when they need additional support or a different approach to thrive. There are more tools, resources, and individualized programs available now than ever before, and these learning environments are shaped around the individual, rather than asking the learner to shape themselves to the needs of the classroom.

At Lydian Academy, we fully support and share in the belief that every child can have a fulfilling educational experience that allows them to achieve their academic goals. We believe that partnering with the parents of exceptional students is the most powerful way to empower the future of our children and our communities.

Engaging with Exceptional Students

Young female student with book

Students with attention challenges who might be struggling in a large classroom may thrive in a one-on-one learning environment. With flexible scheduling and virtual learning opportunities that can start at any time of year, Lydian Academy provides a private middle and high school alternative that is fully focused on the needs of your child.

With supportive and welcoming campuses in both Burlingame and Menlo Park, CA, Lydian instructors are waiting to help all students achieve their educational goals, overcome life challenges, and fully realize their academic potential. Contact us today to attend a virtual open house, schedule a tour of our campuses, or find out more about how easily your child can enroll in our innovative programs.



We offer a unique year-round one-on-one learning experience, personalized to you and your schedule.

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