That Moment When I Realized My Distractable Son Learned to Focus

That Moment When I Realized My Distractable Son Learned to Focus


This was a scene of encouragement today — even though, at the time, it was a scene of chaos!  The “littles” and I don’t have a specific place we do school every day; our location changes according to the need of the day.  Today we are working in the living room — the same place my oldest does his computer work.   Faith is doing a letter puzzle and Elijah is doing his reading comprehension as well as practicing skip counting.  I am taking turns giving instructions to each of them.

My son focusing in the midst of chaos

A school day moment. Please excuse the existence of “real life” in these photos.

But the boy in the background is where my focus of encouragement lies.  He is taking an Algebra II quiz requiring  a page of work for each problem and is concentrating heavily.  He is not distracted by all the events in the foreground!

This would not have been the case five years ago!

Back then he was distracted by a slight breeze!  Any activity in the house caused him great distress, and if there was no activity in the house then thoughts flying around his brain took precedence over his school work.  As you can imagine, in a small house with several small children there was rarely a lack of activity!


This is a photo of Zechariah, but the expression on his face was perfect! I apparently never captured that exasperated look on Nic’s face on camera.

schoolday collage

A typical school day in 2007 with my then 7, 5, 4, and 2 year old.

I made him a “focus board” — a tri-fold project board that you buy in the school supply section for science fair displays.  We would put it up in front of him to block out all activity around him.  It worked … most times.  However, sometimes his own brain was the distraction!  I set timers for him, and gave him small goals.  I gave him gum to chew.  I allowed music.  I tried many methods to help him learn to block out the activity around him — telling him that as the oldest of this large family the noise would never go away.  He had to learn to cope.

comparing nic 07 vs 15

Left: Nic would spend hours in this position, on this same page, doing the same problem. Right: Nic is now able to focus on the task at hand and get his work done.

And learn to cope he has!  It has been a gradual improvement over the years.  So slight that I hadn’t really noticed or thought of it until today.  In the middle of our noisy lessons, I looked over and realized that he was taking a quiz, I asked him if we were bothering him, to  which he replied,

“No.  I’ve trained myself to focus.”

Gasp! Suddenly the struggles of the past contrasted with this very instant came rushing back, filling me with joy.  This boy, whom I had contended with so often, was concentrating on his work so heavily he didn’t even notice the silly antics of the five year old less than six feet away.  I was in awe!

Having five siblings has helped.  So has the fact that his schoolwork didn’t go away when he did get distracted.  There were a few late “homework” nights that taught him that he needed to work harder during the day.  But he also listens to music.  During this quiz he has Pandora playing on the computer in the background.  Somehow music blocks out the external and internal stimuli going on and he is able to focus on the task at hand.  In fact, now that I think about it, he really has a hard time focusing if he is not allowed to listen to music.

So what does this mean for some of you other mothers who are still in the midst of the struggle?  It means there is hope.  The child who is so distractable and restless you’d swear he has ADHD is not hopeless.  Given the tools, he can learn.  Try different methods, find what works, and give him time to grow.

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