Preschool Classroom Intervention Series: Inattention and Impulsivity

by Dr. Barbara Lowe

Classroom Recommendations:  Preschool Child with Inattention & Impulsivity Challenges

A child who has difficulty attending and staying on task might behave impulsively or appear very active when compared to peers. Behaviors of concern might include blurting out answers before you are done asking a question, difficulty with taking turns, difficulty with listening to and following simple directions, and shifting from one activity to another too quickly. Moreover, behaviors might include difficulty with planning ahead, confusion during daily routine activities, and losing things more often than peers. Some of these children might be physically more active than peers as well. This child may seem to need a lot of supervision, despite having knowledge of the expectations of the classroom.

Below are some classroom interventions that might be implemented with the child who has difficulties with inattention and impulsivity. Many of these interventions could also be modified for use in the home environment.

Skill building Interventions

  • Teach the student specific strategies for staying on task, such as:
    • Using a visual schedule with pictures of task steps;
    • Having the student repeat or paraphrase directions;
    • Using a timer, slowly extend the amount of time the student is expected to persist with a task over the course of weeks
  • Teach a classroom wide social skills curriculum. Then reinforce those skills at a higher intensity for the student.Use modeling and instruction to teach the student acceptable ways to communicate feelings, especially strong feelings, such as frustration, anger, and excitement.
  • Teach the student strategies for calming down strong or impulsive feelings.  For example, teaching one of the following strategies:
  • How to identify strong emotions (e.g., anger, excitement, jealousy) and how to use attention-shifting strategies to deal with those emotions (e.g., deep breaths or distraction with another task, counting to self, etc.).
  • How to use self-talk (e.g., telling oneself to “calm down.”).
  • How to solve problems using problem solving steps.
  • Establish and reinforce rules in the classroom. Spend extra time teaching the student the classroom rules in fun, non-punitive ways. For example, read books about the rules and have the student draw pictures and dictate about the rules. When possible, remind the student about the rules before an infraction occurs.

Environmental Modifications

  • Reward positive behaviors. Use a variety of reinforcers to reward what the child does well and to encourage further effort.
  • Use environmental cues: prompts, pictorial directions with steps, pictorial schedules.
  • Give short directions.
  • Use predetermined signals and cues (e.g., for no, quiet down, come here, calm down, etc.).
  • When interacting with the student, use eye contact, say the student’s name, and/or touch the student (e.g., on the shoulder or hand) to get the student’s attention.
  • Provide quiet spaces for the child to take breaks and re-group that have less visual and auditory stimulus, for example: a quiet book corner, or a small tent of play house with cushions inside.
  • Place the child close in proximity to you, near positive peers, and in areas with few distractions.
  • Help the child to organize his nervous system by providing opportunities for proprioceptive input (e.g., carrying a backpack with books, or carrying large wooden blocks).
  • Try to reduce the noise level in the room (e.g., add carpet, etc.).
  • Minimize visual and auditory distractions.
  • Use soft music to facilitate calming down.
  • Evaluate and structure the classroom environment so that there is little unstructured time for the student.
  • Be sure that activities are developmentally appropriate for the child, as activities that are too difficult will hinder on-task behaviors.
  • Allow the child to hold a “fidget toy” when needed during circle time.
  • Assign special “jobs” to the child so that the child will feel important to the class and stay involved in the task.
  • Introduce novel toys when attention begins to fade.

Other helpful tips

  • Be consistent with rules and schedule.
  • Use natural and logical consequences.
  • Always collaborate with and communicate with parents as much as possible. Offer frequent conferences with parents to encourage cross-environment consistency of rules and expectations.