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What Are the Common Causes of Attention Problems in Children?

By Jennifer Long
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Attention problems in children can be caused by several common issues. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and vision or hearing problems are two of the most common causes. Attention problems can also be caused by a deficiency in certain systems that control attention abilities. Mental energy, processing, and production are these three systems, and they determine what types of attention are affected.

Throughout childhood, every child exhibits signs of ADHD, such as lack of focus and hyperactivity. A child is diagnosed with ADHD when certain criteria are met. ADHD causes an inability to sit still, fidgeting, and blurting out, to name a few symptoms. Due to the lack of focusing combined with the restlessness and other symptoms, attention problems in children are common. Directions cannot be followed properly or are misunderstood, and behavioral problems, such as seeking negative attention from adults and other children, may be present as children get frustrated with themselves and others.

Mental energy is one of the three systems that influence attention. It is the energy required by the brain to process information. If a child has a problem with mental energy, concentrating leads to mental fatigue and the child will have a tendency to zone out. Diminished alertness and a lack of consistency in performance lead to attention problems in children as well. A deficiency in mental energy can also cause attention problems due to a reduction in mental effort.

Processing is another type of attention-controlling system that controls attention through the intake of information. Attention problems in children who struggle in this area are caused by what information a child can process. For example, a child may not be capable of paying attention to important information for extended periods of time. Processing detail and depth can also be affected, leading to difficulties in recalling important details.

When a problem with production leads to attention problems in children, output is affected. Children with production problems often suffer behaviorally and academically. They cannot control the pace of task completion and cannot control their responses. Self-monitoring efforts are difficult, and a child cannot regulate attention.

Vision and hearing issues can also play a large role in attention problems in children. When children have difficulty with hearing, they do not get as much verbal information, which affects focus. Vision problems cause children to lose interest because they cannot properly see things. Both of these issues can generally be corrected, but they may also go unnoticed until academic or behavioral problems are present.

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Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Oct 12, 2014

@fify-- I once read that in children with attention deficiency, sitting still and focusing on one thing for some time caused feelings of anxiety and nervousness. So the child, in order to overcome this feeling, is constantly moving, fidgeting, moving from one thing to another rapidly. In fact, the author felt that attention deficiency was a type of anxiety disorder.

I'm not sure if there is truth to this but it seemed like a logical explanation.

By fify — On Oct 11, 2014

@SarahGen-- I really don't know but it is true that attention deficiency and hyperactivity disorder is on the rise. And many children have trouble at school and poor grades as a result.

I don't know if it's genetic or caused by environmental factors though. Maybe it's a little bit of both. But it is certainly due to the way the brain functions.

By SarahGen — On Oct 11, 2014

I'm glad that doctors have very specific criteria for ADHD. But I also feel that the criteria should be more strict because almost every other child seems to suffer from some sort of attention disorder these days. Either it is being diagnosed too quickly or somewhere, somehow, we as parents and teachers, are doing something wrong.

Like the article said, children naturally have short attention spans. It gets better as children grow and our attention span is best when we are adults. Some people though are born with slightly shorter attention spans that more or less stay the same throughout life. I think it's a genetic thing.

Looking at the increase in ADD and ADHD diagnoses however, I think there is something else going on that is cause attention problems in children. Perhaps too much stimuli since birth in the form of TV, video games, cell phones, etc? I think it's possible. Too much stimuli has a negative affect on attentiveness.

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