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Caring for the High Maintenance Child
By Kate Andersen.

Activity, Attention Span and Persistence. Nov/Dec, 2017.
Dear Kate:
I have a 9 month old who sleeps fairly well. Not a problem until lately, she wakes up and can't go back to sleep.....
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Activity, Attention Span and Persistence.

Children whose attention spans are even shorter than the average young child's can appear demanding because they do not get absorbed in activities very long and frequently turn to caretakers for stimulation. Others may become restless and get into things they shouldn't. Others simply rampage through their toys and may create a lot of mess. Although people often think of 'attentional problems' as surfacing in classrooms and other places where the demands for concentration are great, there are many day-to-day tasks in the home that do require attention and persistence: getting dressed, getting through morning and evening routines such as brushing teeth, washing face, and eating meals. Other tasks such as listening to bed-time stories and doing small chores such as picking up toys can also be affected. Although this topic has not received adequate research, it is easy to see how development can be affected if a child is not able to become fully engaged in these normal tasks of childhood. A favorite video or cassette-story can often help even a young child settle. With some children this will be more successful if the adult holds them or at least sits close to them, especially at the beginning.


Structure and routines can be helpful to children who are very active with a high activity levels, short attention span and low persistence. Such youngsters may be able to complete a day-to-day task such as getting ready for school if parents break the job into steps and praise the child for each completed step.


Parents and teachers can often channel an inattentive and restless child by giving the child a task that requires activity, such as taking out a waste-basket and carrying it out to the garbage cans by the back gate. If the task can be broken up into several trips, and the child rewarded with stickers or a treat, then there is often a great sense of satisfaction for both parent and child that energy has been channelled in such a constructive fashion.


When the normal approaches to obtaining the child's attention don't work, parents and teachers can experiment with making the stimulus stronger or more appealing to the child in question. For example, parents can try using a much louder voice or a resounding clap, a whistle or a bell to gain the child's attention. Tasks, such as puzzles, may gain the child's attention for a long time if they are brightly colored than if they are drab. Because novelty is often a factor in maintaining attention with such children, the particular stimulus may need to be changed frequently.


A compatible but more focussed playmate offers a most valuable type of compensation. Indeed, the benefits of such a social 'curriculum' are so great that this type of peer-mediated compensation should be explored further in school contexts. Some youngsters will play for exceptionally long periods with another child who fits well with them because they can tolerate the frequent shifts in focus and even make suggestions to help the child stay engaged.

Scott was a child who was low in persistence, very distractible and who had a very negative mood. His mother found that he whined and pestered her constantly. However, in the company of a very familiar and very patient neighbor who was a year older, Scott could play contentedly for hours. When his mother observed the boys to find out the secret, she noticed that Scott's friend followed her son's lead but also made suggestions for making the game more elaborate. This held Scott's attention. These boys played pirate games up and down the stairs, rushing off to bring in a new prop from time to time, or turning their ship into a flying-ship when they got bored with fighting off sharks. The play proceeded at an astonishingly rapid pace and Scott's mother got worn out from just watching them. However, she was eternally grateful to her little neighbor for the rich friendship he offered her son.

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