I live with a 7-year old with a very busy brain. He is bright & inquisitive. He also has a lot of physical energy and loves to play soccer, go running with me (although I can't keep up!), or challenge our babysitter to a lively game of flag football.
More and more, I feel like the adults in his life are telling him to FOCUS and CONCENTRATE and PAY ATTENTION. And the more I nag him about this, the more I feel that we, the adults, are creating this problem for kids.
Let me outline my son's day yesterday - which I am sure will sound like a lot of your kids' days. He was up at 7:30 and in school from 9-3:30. As I noted in my last blog post, he has a working snack in school. Yesterday, one kid was misbehaving in his class so the whole class was kept in for 7 minutes of their 20 minute recess. The children can no long play kickball at recess because some kids were being too aggressive. The kids were apparently not behaving in their table pods, so their classroom was transformed to rows of desks. By his report, there is very little socializing during the day except at lunch.
When he got home, we spent half an hour studying for his spelling test today. It was a gorgeous fall day, but who has time to play outside when there is a list of 10 words to master?
At 5, he had his piano lesson. By this point, the poor guy was gone. He didn't misbehave, but his piano teacher told me that everything he was trying to teach went in one ear and out the other. The teacher asked me to please suggest some strategies to keep my son focused next week.
From what I can tell, this energetic 7 year old had about 10 minutes to blow off steam yesterday but even then, there were rules about how this could be done. The expectation that he should basically focus for 10 straight hours just seems off.
I looked back on my time in 2nd grade. I actually can't remember it, but I do remember third grade. I have a sister and went to a girls' school so some of my perceptions might not apply for a boy my son's age. But, here is what I can recall. Our recess time lasted at least half an hour, regardless of weather (in Canada). Indoor recess (so common here in our suburban Philadelphia public school) did not exist. I remember no restrictions on what we could do at recess. Extra-curricular activities like Brownies and ballet happened during lunch/recess time. We had after school electives one day per week, when for an hour we did cooking, knitting, a sport or whatever interested us. I recall no other after school commitments until grade 7. In second grade, I did walk to and from school (this stopped when I switched to private school because I lived too far) and this was the norm. Kids walked without parents. This allowed for more time in fresh air, getting exercise, and just being silly kids. At our school, we did get a lot of homework. But, I remember coming home and playing outside, getting homework done before dinner, and then watching all the classic shows of the 80s like Family Ties and Growing Pains!
And, I don't recall a single kid at my school who had attentional problems.
Before we start diagnosing every child with ADD, and putting kids on medication needlessly, let's look at our expectations. Let's ask ourselves if WE could maintain the level of focus they are being asked to maintain. Maybe it is these expectations that need to change, rather than our children.
I am a licensed psychologist working with kids, teens, and adults with anxiety disorders.