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5-year-old can't pay attention in school


Our 5-year-old daughter just started kindergarten. She is full of spirit, energy and character, but in this new world of school, she’s having a hard time balancing socializing and learning. She does well when I work with her on school materials at home, but when she’s in the classroom, she struggles with paying attention to her work. What can we do?​


5 yr-old and school

It's fairly common for children to struggle as they start kindergarten. There are new routines and new rules, and it takes a while for children to get used to following them.

One of the first things you can do is look at the academic and behavioral expectations you have for your daughter, and determine whether they are reasonable. Ask yourself these five questions, and if you can answer "Yes" to all of them, your expectations are on the right track.

  1. Have I taught my child how to do what I expect her to do (for example, skills like following instructions, focusing on work, staying on task)?
  2. Have I modeled these skills/behaviors for my child (for example, have I shown him or her what they look like)?
  3. Does my child understand my expectations?
  4. Can my child show me how to use the skills/behaviors I expect (the true test of understanding)?
  5. Do I praise my child when I see him or her using these skills/behaviors?

This exercise not only helps parents recognize the importance of teaching their children what they expect but also helps the child understand that meeting those expectations will earn them positive attention and praise from their parents. In other words, it sets them up for success.

Often, parents who do this assessment will admit they cannot honestly answer "Yes" to every question. In that case, we simply suggest they go back and teach or re-teach what they want their child to do, and then monitor how their child responds.

Some quick activities that can help you teach skills include:

  • Playing "Simon Says," where your child has to ask permission ("Simon, may I?) before following your instruction.
  • Playing "Follow the Leader," where you demonstrate and model behaviors as the leader, then let your child repeat the behaviors.

Try these ideas with your daughter as a way to help her see the connection between your expectations and her behaviors during "work time" at school.