Simple ways to help children stay focused in school

Going back to school can bring both change and challenges, especially for children who have a hard time staying focused.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 1 in 10 American children between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed at some point with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children 6 and older receive behavioral therapy and medication, preferably both.

At her holistic and integrative health practice in Atlanta, CentreSpring MD's Dr. Taz Bhatia, who goes professionally by Dr. Taz, says parents often ask her how to tell the difference between typical childhood problems like difficulty focusing in class and disorders like ADHD.

"I think it's so hard for parents and kids to figure out what is true ADHD and what is a hyperactive kid, or a curious kid, or an energetic kid," she says. "For so many parents, it's a tough decision, do I start ADHD medication or don't I?"

Dr. Taz encourages parents to try lifestyle and dietary changes before going to medication.

"The first is to just make sure your child is sleeping," she says.

Experts say children need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep a night, depending on their age, with younger children needing more than teens.

"Make sure that your children are getting into bed at the appropriate time for their age. They're getting good, consistent sleep. They're not staying up at night, they're not on computers or electronics after you leave the room."

Next, Dr. Taz recommends, talk to your child's teacher about what can be done to help your child stay focused in in class.

"Some of these kids simply need to move to the front of the classroom. Some of them need a little bit more supervision in the day."

She also advises her parents to ease up on the amount of sugar their children are eating and to avoid food with artificial dyes and additives.

Scientists are still debating whether a link between sugar and ADHD, and whether artificial dyes play a role in the disorder.

But refined sugars like those found in many processed snack foods and sweets can spike blood sugar levels, making a child temporarily more active.

Focus on sleep and the other lifestyle changes for 90 days, Dr. Taz recommends.

If you're not seeing improvement, or your child's confidence seems to be taking a hit, talk to your pediatrician about getting the child screened for ADHD, and getting on a treatment plan.

"So, if they're really struggling and starting to accept the fact that they're not smart, or they're not a good learning, and sort of settling into that place, you don't want that for your child," she says. "So, sometimes, the urgency to start medication speeds up a little bit."

The CDC says ADHD medications affect each child differently.

For some, the medications can be very effective.

Others may see no results.

Talk to your child's doctor about what would be a good fit for your child.