Medicating children to teach focus?

By Eve Tahmincioglu

A New York Times article published this morning on how kids without attention disorders are being giving medications is already one of the top emailed stories on the publications website.

It’s gotten lots of people up in arms that doctors are prescribing Adderall, a popular drug to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), to low-income children as a way to increase focus and self-control.

This quote from Michael Anderson, an Atlanta pediatrician quoted in the story:

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice. We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

Dr. Anderson is one of the more outspoken proponents of an idea that is gaining interest among some physicians. They are prescribing stimulants to struggling students in schools starved of extra money — not to treat A.D.H.D., necessarily, but to boost their academic performance.

Comments about the story are already flowing into our Facebook page this morning. It’s clearly gotten many parents and educators up in arms on social media.

But are there alternatives to drugging up kids when it comes to teaching even the poorest children out there essential life skills?

“We’re not going to get into the debate about medication versus non medication but there are other ways for parents and teachers to promote focus and self control,” stressed Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind In the Making.

Here are some tips on how to promote focus and self-control in children:

  • Encourage children to pursue what interests them. When children have deep interests, they become more motivated and pay more attention to what they are learning.
  • Play games that require children to pay attention, remember the rules and follow directions – I Spy, Red Light/Green Light, Simons Says.
  • Have children (preschool age or older) play sorting games where the rules change: first ask them to sort by color, then sort by shape. This game has children remember the rules and then resist the temptation to go on automatic and keep doing what they were doing.
  • Play other games where children (preschool age or older) can’t go on automatic: for example, ask them to say ‘night’ when they see a picture of the sun and to say ‘day’ when they see a picture of the moon. These games help them gain more self-control.
  • In addition, computer games that promote focus and TV shows that age appropriate and meaningful can also help children with these skills.

And as Galinsky stated in her book:

Keeping the fire in children’s eyes burning brightly and keeping their engagement in learning strong are what is most essential to me.