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Bogged Down in Details

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: My fifth-grade daughter has a hard time with concentration and learning the concept of summarizing in writing skills and with her speech. She is a very bright child who get good grades and loves to read. But she often gets bogged down in too much detail or lacks the concentration to complete her work. What can I do to help her with this?

A: Many very bright children become "over-focused" when they are doing their work and, as you say, get bogged down in details and have trouble finishing. Try helping your daughter organize her work and her thoughts. When she has a big project due in social studies, for example, help her to outline and break it down into smaller parts. In that way she can draw the map of the country one night, write about the people who live there the next, and so on.

Try also setting a time limit for completion of each part, such as 30 minutes to complete the map. Set a kitchen timer or your microwave to ring or beep at the end of the time period. Working against a clock may help your daughter stay focused and pace herself without getting bogged down.

You can also pair the timer with short breaks. Knowing that at the end of the 30-minute period she will have 10 minutes to walk around, stretch, or drink a glass of water may also help your daughter concentrate on the work and get it done. When homework seems to take hours to complete, it can appear endless and there may be no motivation to keep moving. Knowing that there is a break around the corner can keep a child going.

Let your daughter's teacher know what you are trying. If you see progress, the teacher may want to try something similar in the classroom. Your daughter's teacher may have other suggestions for you as well.

Talk also with the school counselor. He or she may be able to give your daughter some individual time or include her in a small group on work completion. You may also want to talk with your pediatrician about the problems your daughter has with her concentration and focus.

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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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