39 answers

My 4 Year Old Son Can't Focus

My 4 year old son has trouble focusing many times. He is quite hyper, as am I, however I can't get him to just look at me. Sometimes I can call his name many times and he either never answers or it takes a while. I know he hears me. I've asked him, did you not hear me or were you ignoring me.... he has said ignoring me. I have insisted he answer me so now he says "OK" to whatever I tell him but has no idea what I've said. I think he has trouble concentrating and focusing. Any suggestions on excercising his focus?

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thank you everyone for your many responses! I appreciate it. I have been spending more one on one time with my son, playing games, putting puzzles together, talking, etc. I am trying to stop my busy day to get down on his level and listen and / or simply explain things. I have noticed a change already. Unfortunately, when I have been most frustrated, I yell. Soooo there has been less yelling. Instead I have used a firm voice and am letting the timeout stool be the bad guy. My mom even commented that she received great eye contact from him recently and that rarely happened before. So I think we're on the right track. Thanks again everyone for your thoughts!

Featured Answers

Hi, I would get him evaluated by a psychologist. He could be ignoring you but may have a processing problem. It would be good to catch it before he starts school.

D. H.

It sounds JUST like my 4 year old son (4 on 6-1.) We had him assesed and they told us he has all the signs of ADHD. We are trying to digest the whole thing. I am hoping he will grow out of it but I am educating myself on it just in case he does not. My e-mail is ____@____.com if you want to talk about it more.


I have 2 nephews w/similar issues. Coffee has helped with the one that is the worst. I tried helping out with the chocolate covered espresso beans - because he doesn't like the coffee. The beans are quicker and overwith a lot easier. He had had a lot of trouble at school and when he takes his beans/or has coffee, he's able to focus better & keep himself more on task. He's very bright but just has trouble remembering what was just instructed to him regardless of who is instructing him. The beans and/or coffee have really helped. It takes the regimen and regularity though. Sometimes my sister doesn't make him take them and he has a bad day at school - it is hard to say he is in trouble when he doesn't seem to be trying to be bad you know? I know when it is regularly done, it works regularly. Coffee seems to have the adverse reaction for someone who is hyperactive and potentially attention deficit disorder. Without, he will start to go brush his teeth as instructed, and then walk back and ask, what was I suppose to do? I hope this all helps you too! The beans can be like candy. I have gotten them at Trader Joe's.

More Answers

Dear L.,

I so understand what you are going through and wonder if you've looked into your son's diet (what he is eating). Sugar and even different food combinations can truly make a difference in a child's behavior. But, please also remember that kids are ALIVE and have feelings and spirit and do not deserve to be labeled or medicated. I definitely know from experience that medications just make our kids act out more and that, in fact, there are many natural solutions that can actually help with what your son is going through.

I'd recommend checking out 3 organizations for more information on why going the natural route is best for you and your son:

Hope this helps! Please free to call me anytime: (323) 906~2784.

L. (Mama to 20 week old Dylan Orion) : )))

one thing you might want to consider is his diet. food sensitivities and allergies can cause lack of focus, restlessness, etc. there is an interesting book called "is this your child?" by Doris Rapp that discusses how diet, sensitivities to environment and chemicals, etc can cause changes in behavior. i read parts of the book, it's interesting, but a mom can go nuts worrying about every little thing, so what i've found is to just do little things that make life more healthy, cutting down on processed sugar, junk food, eating more healthy food, drinking water more than juice, and creating more balance like less tv, computer, video games, and limiting exposure to those things and spending time out to get fresh air and sunshine. i think these days with our lifestyles and technology, we lose a natural balance. little changes too, like incorporating organic foods and fabrics and natural cleaners i think helps too. no parent is perfect and we can't keep our kids being exposed to everything, but balance is key. sometimes we have junk food and watch tv, but i realize my kids are much different and calmer when they are living more with things that nurture their bodies, minds, and attention spans!

good luck!


Dear L.,

Alright now, just calm down. He is only four and doesn't focus well. Give him a break and stop hasseling him. If you want him to answer you, then go to him and tap him on the shoulder or get in front of him. Then just talk to him calmly and friendly like. He will cooperate more easily when you do that. You know, he isn't in the Army, he is a small child. Give him a break.

You need to take him to the doctor and quiz him or her about autistic behavior. You can look up the autism website. It doesn't have to be a life threatening experience if you have a child with autism . It is just something that we have to know in order to communicate with the child in a way that fits the unique person that the child is.

Autism, or any other condition doesn't have to be totally debilitating. It can be anywhere from almost unnoticeable to, well much worse.

No, he may not be autistic, but it is better to check it out, you may be told some other condition or that it is just that he is a four year old and has lots of stuff on his mind that he is learning or paying attention to.

Be not afraid, just investigate, and be calm,
C. N.

Have you looked into having him tested for some sort of attention deficit disorder? You wouldn't necessarily need medication for that, but I think knowing what you're up against could help you deal with it. Also, he could just be telling you he's ignoring you without really knowing what that means. Maybe he doesn't hear you, maybe he's really distracted. In either case, you should have him tested so that you know what it is you're truly dealing with.

If you are allowng hm to watch television to much this will cause major attention spam problems! Childre3n this age should be in a house where the T.V is on no more than two hours a day, this includes television for the entire family. Studies show that homes with out a T.V going produces much brighter and focused children. My son and I both are high energy, use it to go out side and run with him, play at the park etc. diet is also one of the most important issues with a high energy child. You are going to have to make a true effort if you want this to change. Also if he is not looking at you stand right in front of him and say" Look at me when I am talking, if he does not GENTLELY take his face and hold it up to your face and talk to him.

HI L.,
I have a 9 year old Grandson...for years he had the same problem....turns out he's ADHD (attention deficite with hyperactivity disorder). You need to take your son in and have a specialist test him....then he'll probably also need to get on medication. Ever since my grandson's been on medication with visits to the psychologist...he's been much, much better and even gets very good grades in school. Hope this helps you.


I also am a stay at home mom to two little boys, and your situation sounds very similar to my own experience a few years ago. I am also a high energy person, and I come from a really academic family ( I was labeled gifted at 5 ). My youngest was very distractable and difficult to get to focus on non-preffered activities. Call your school district and get an evaluation. There are so many great programs to help you get your little guy prepared for Pre K/Kindergarten...but DO NOT delay. Act now. I know it may seem drastic to go this route, but you will be so relieved when you can get professional assesments done and get asistance and guidance. I wish you and your son all the best.

I highly suggest you get him allergy tested IGG, IGE. Also, you must consider autism. I have twins, one of whom is autistic. I suggest you get him evaluated. A DAN (DEFEAT AUTISM NOW) doctor can get the blood test done. We found our daughter was severely allergic to eggs, milk, beef, etc. It seems scary but you need to look into this. Changing his diet could do wonders.

The scratch test is not nearly as accurate as the blood test (IGG, IGE), We see Dr. Marty Carlson Marty Carlson <____@____.com> who got the tests going (your pediatrician will most likely not suggest or administer this). He is calm, wonderful and we just love him. He is located in Murrieta off of Hancock.


Does he normally avoid eye contact with you? Does he normally avoid eye contact with others? When he was a baby, did he avoid pointing to things? Or did he take your hand to point to something? If the answer to some or all of these is yes, have him screened for autism. (I don't mean to scare you, but sometimes the higher-functioning autistic kids - like mine - are tricky to notice in the earlier years - but the sooner you get help, the better off he will be. You could also check to see if he has an auditory processing issue for which there is plenty of help. Ask your pediatrician to refer you to a speech/language pathologist who works with children your age.

In the meantime, each day, plan on calling him when you know he will answer or respond appropriately. Have a special treat ready for him to reward the good behavior. It can be a food item or a video he likes to watch, a little toy, anything he would find rewarding. By making looking at you when you call him rewarding, he will naturally start to do it all the time. When he does look at you, give him simple verbal praise as well - like, "oh, there's those beautiful eyes of yours" or"oh, I just love to look in your eyes", or "thanks for looking at me when I called your name". Don't go overboard with the praise and rewards, just keep it short and sweet and in time you will see his repsonses to you become more appropriate.

I have 2 nephews w/similar issues. Coffee has helped with the one that is the worst. I tried helping out with the chocolate covered espresso beans - because he doesn't like the coffee. The beans are quicker and overwith a lot easier. He had had a lot of trouble at school and when he takes his beans/or has coffee, he's able to focus better & keep himself more on task. He's very bright but just has trouble remembering what was just instructed to him regardless of who is instructing him. The beans and/or coffee have really helped. It takes the regimen and regularity though. Sometimes my sister doesn't make him take them and he has a bad day at school - it is hard to say he is in trouble when he doesn't seem to be trying to be bad you know? I know when it is regularly done, it works regularly. Coffee seems to have the adverse reaction for someone who is hyperactive and potentially attention deficit disorder. Without, he will start to go brush his teeth as instructed, and then walk back and ask, what was I suppose to do? I hope this all helps you too! The beans can be like candy. I have gotten them at Trader Joe's.

Hi L., sorry I can't offer any help, but I think I can relate. I'm a single mom of a hyperactive 3 year old, and she's a bundle of fun, but she requires less sleep than I do. When she gets a nap at daycare it reduces her night sleep by an hour or more. She only needs 8, I need nine to function and last night we only had six. Sorry, I'm rambling. I have ADD, and Kyla has ADHD. But I can't get her tested or help until she's like 5 or something, I don't know what to do to get her to focus for longer than 3 seconds either. You got any info?.. thanks and good luck

L., take your little guy in the doctors and have some tests done on him , explain to the doctor what he is doing, just to rule out a couple of things, let us know what the doctor says.

Starting now, spend every moment with your son doing calm activities: reading WITH him, participating in playdoh with him at the table, limit tv to one hour a day, but with the caveat that you are watching it with him (and discussing it with him) and only from public television or some calm dvd (preferably not disney).
Basically, pay constant attention to him.
It will pay off, but it takes a lot of patience.

I used to be an elementary school teacher before I had my 4 year old son; now I have a 2.5 year old daughter and #3 on the way. The student who were "hyper" came from homes that didn't give them enough attention. Some children just need more than others. Their time with you isn't forever.

Good luck

You don't mention your pediatrician. Have you talked to your doctor about this?
A way to get anyone to focus is by taking bothe their hands in yours and saying their name. They will look at you and hear you. It always works.
Please take your son to his doctor and tell him what you are seeing. This is not something to be ignored.
Gods Blessings

I would be extreamly careful with the ADD and ADHD sugestions I have noticed going about. My son is 4 as well and has similar problems. I just have to remember he is only 4 his focus will come in time. If you do decide to get him check make sure to get a second opinion. I was diagnosed ADHD and put on meds at 5 years old and it became a nightmare in my later life. I was diagnosed too soon and ended up on meds untill I was 18 and was unable to handle many emotional situations because I was emotionaly numbed by the medication. I he is diagnosed with it look into the newr non medicated solutions out there to help with the disorder that way he can grow up emotionally. Good luck and as always the best results come with patience, prayer, and a whole lot of love

its amazing to me that you have all these disparate replies or that you have all these replies at all!!!
you simply havent given enough background here for even ME to form an opinion (and I'm used to doing it in a hurry)
PM me if you like

or repost more info

what is your sons usual behavior, conversation and language skills like

what you MEAN buy " he is 'hyper' as am I"

do you play with him and talk to him while playing?
how does that work out?

what do you MEAN by 'focussing'? can he not focus on a self chosen activity, or finish a puzzle for example.

do you speak to him face to face in a relaxed way? or call things across the room to him?

can he follow a story line?
can he re tell a story?

say whether you have him with other adults / play group etc
what do they think of his cognitive abilities?

do you mean when you are annoyed that he's ignoring you and tell him off, he doesn't meet your eyes or do you men he NEVER looks at you??
How long has this been the case?

There's so many ways this could go. Don't listen to ANYONE until you give them all the pertinant facts

Best wishes!

From your description, I think it would be worthwhile to look into whether your son may be ADD/ADHD. I suggest you go to the website “naet.com” and order the book “Say Good-bye to ADD and ADHD,” as sometimes the behaviors are the result of a body’s reaction to things it perceives as allergens. If you decide to pursue treatment, you can find an NAET certified doctor through the website. I (and 2 of my grand children) go to Dr. David Karaba for other allergy related treatment (freedom) in Fullerton and absolutely love him. His phone number is ###-###-####. If you want to do further research, you can also visit narfnet.com. Here’s the information on the book:

Say Good-bye to ADD and ADHD
By - Devi S. Nambudripad, M.D., D.C., L.Ac., R.N., Ph.D.

This book explains how ADD and ADHD are related to food, chemical, environmental factors, vaccinations, drugs, and other factors. In Say Good-bye ADD and ADHD, Dr. Nambudripad, the developer of NAET® (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques), provides an innovative and natural solution to ADD and ADHD, the most common problem plaguing many children and adults today. This book will provide guidelines to help self-evaluate and recognize the symptoms of ADD and ADHD or educate the parents to observe and evaluate the child’s behaviors from a very young age by guiding through a list of abnormal behaviors or patterns in the child. If any abnormality is suspected, then the parent could seek appropriate medical help at an early age. This book show you how certain commonly used foods and environmental substances can cause attention deficit and hyperactive disorders in your child; how you can test your child and detect the culprit causing the child’s sudden abnormal behaviors in your privacy of your own home using the Nambudripad’s Testing Techniques described in the book. This book will educate you how your child’s health problems can relate to allergy and, how allergies can manifest in myriad symptoms that might seem unrelated. The author also provides a few effective home-help procedures that might temporarily get your child out of trouble. The book also helps you find the help in assisting your child find the help he needs to reduce ADD or ADHD or even eliminate permanently and help the child lead a normal life. The book is supported by case studies from NAET® practitioners, and testimonials from patients who have been treated successfully by NAET®.

Have you or your son ever been tested for ADHD ? It is hereditary. The first place to start asking about this is your family doctor. This is important to determine before he gets to school age because it can make all the difference in how he learns to when he should start school. Take it from a M. who wishes she would have know more about this chemical imbalance. My ex-husband kept saying he just wasn't trying in school and I was to easy on him. Unfortunately it took his teachers recommending and me finally insisting he get tested at school to find out in 4th grade he might have ADD. By the end of 5th grade, after talking to our doctor and doing outside testing the doctor recommended, we finally got my son on medication. His test scores that year went from below 50% to the 80% and above range. Unfortunately waiting, he ended up being teased and became less self assured.
He has worked through a lot of that now, because having good grades gave him confidence and knowing it wasn't just him but a chemical imbalance he had no control over, helped him move on, get to know himself and how he learns so he could feel more like everyone else. Once tested at school, by law the school must give him more help and keep you informed on his progress.
Now is the time to start asking questions, before he gets in school.
Good luck to you.

Take all food with food dyes out of his diet. Does he get ear infections? If so, take him off dairy. Please visit my website
I raised twins with ADHD and it was natural medicine that cured them.
D. Merlin

You know it really sounds like he has ADHD (Attention Defecit Hyperactivity Disorder). It runs through my family and its exactly like it sounds they have trouble focusing and also tend to be pretty hyper. You should talk to your pediatrician about the way he is acting. It may not be ADHD but if it is it is treatable. I hope this helps.

It sounds JUST like my 4 year old son (4 on 6-1.) We had him assesed and they told us he has all the signs of ADHD. We are trying to digest the whole thing. I am hoping he will grow out of it but I am educating myself on it just in case he does not. My e-mail is ____@____.com if you want to talk about it more.


Absolsutely no sugar (or sugar substitutes)...and watch out for the high fructose corn syrup. Even juice is high in natural sugar. Our son gets crazy after a little juice, so we have always given him water. have him eat a little something with protein every 2-3 hours to keep his blood sugar stabilized. I bet in a week, he's doing better.

Also, some kids get bored easily, so make sure you give him activities to channel that energy into that he enjoys. Nobody can focus on something they aren't enjoying.

One last thing, this Detox-Aid from: http://www.kirkmanlabs.com/ has worked wonders for patients of mine and their sons, especially, who can't focus. 1-2 each day and the parents are shocked.

Hope this helps!

I have a son who is now 19 years old who had similar issues that turned out to be Aspberger's syndrome (high functioning autism) with ADHD as a side effect. You could have him evaluated at your local Regional Center, adn/or you could try this diet:
Take out ALL dairy and wheat from his diet- no dairy including Caisine (spelling may be incorrect) which is a milk dirivative and is found in 'Milk free' and Soy cheeses, so none of them either, and no gluten. You can buy almost anything gluten free. You have to be VERY VERY careful that he gets NONE of either, not the tiniest bit. If you see a change in him, and it would be fairly soon, within a couple of weeks, then you know he has whats called "leaky gut syndrome'. You can look that up on the net and get links that will explain this diet. Good luck and God Bless you. C. A.

Hi, L., it sounds like you may have an Indigo or crystal child on your hands. A little extra work but they play a big part in changing our future for the better. I can recomend a book called "The care & feeding of Indigo children" By Doreen Virtue. It has alot of great ideas & also just helps you to understand how special your child is.

Hi, I would get him evaluated by a psychologist. He could be ignoring you but may have a processing problem. It would be good to catch it before he starts school.

D. H.

I by no means am a doctor, but I would get your son tested for ADHD. It could be why he's not paying attention and why he is hyper. I studied psychology in undergrad school (even got a BA in it) it almost seems like he may need to see someone to at least rule out the chance that he could have ADHD or to confirm it. Just a suggestion please don't take offense.

I agree that you should have him tested by a good doctor. Then- if you have a TV get rid of it. YES- throw it away. If you google tv and children you will find several studies that definitively have proven that tv watching makes permanent neurological changes in young children. If your little one already has a hard time focusing on communication with you, I think this is an essential step. It will be harder to keep him occupied only at first.

I'm not saying this to be glib, but he's four. Generally, four-year-olds are so busy with what THEY want to do: ) You might try having him repeat what you said to him. This way you know he's heard you and it reinforces the message. If you feel that there is more to it, you can always get him tested. My little soapbox: I think we expect too much of children at such a young age, esp boys. They need to expend a lot of energy and to expect them to concentrate for extended periods is just not fair. This may be completely unrelated to what you are going through with your child, but just a bit of a rant: )


I have a very energetic 2 year old. We have, very day one only fed him natural and organic foods. But every once and a while he will get more processed and surgary foods then his system is used to and he turns into a totally different child. I'm not sure if this applies to you but, maybe a little has do do with his diet?

Sincerely, N.

This was my son 8 years ago. I had his hearing tested a few times. He was sent to a Audiologist as well. His hearing was fine. His speech therapist sent him to another therapist. She told me that allot of doctors don't know allot about sensory prosessing disorders, and had me fill out a questioner that ask questions like; did he liked to be rocked as a infant?, Does he like jumping off furniture?, Does he act like he can't hear you?, and many more questions. When the sensory is out of balance they have a problem with learning, sitting still & others. SHe said it gets confused with ADD alot. She said to have my son jump on the trampoline for 10 minutes and showed me some deep tissue massage to wake up the deep muscle sensory. See what you can find out. MR

I have a son, now 23, who faced the same challenges. Part of the problem is that we teach our kids not to pay attention to us by talking too much!! :) But what is probably adding to his lack of focus could be food allergies. I could go on and on about the brain-gut highway but I will tell you with all the confidence in the world if he is eating foods with preservatives in them (BHT, MSG, etc), eating foods with aspartame, eating sugary cereals (most cereals off traditional market shelves is loaded with both preservatives and sugars), drinks sugary juices or sodas...does not eat veggies or fruits, and consumes too many carbohydrates (finger foods such as crackers, etc) ...all these things add to his inattentiveness. Check out Feingold on the internet. It is an organization that specializes in ADHD and the affects that food allergies have on children. Hope this helps...it did help with my son. Good luck!! :) Mostly, be a calm and strong mother. Your strength will remain with him long after he leaves home.

C. Conradi

I am a 54 year old mother of four, ranging in ages from 23 to 36, with one granddaughter. I work with a health and wellness company as an independent consultant and sold health foods in the 90's for five years. I healed myself of chronic fatigue syndrome with the help of a naturopath and nutritionist. Our diets and what we use on our skin DO make a difference and influence our ability to think and behave...and certainly impact our health.

I am also the author of "Diamond Moms, A Mother's Guide to Raising a Baseball Player." While my book is centered around baseball, it is mostly about being a focused, strong, and loving parent. A child with boundaries and calm, strong guidance is a brave and courageous child and grows up to contribute in a positive way to the world we live in.

Don't worry you are not the only one that has had to deal with this. I have a hyper 4 year old son as well. I have watched my son ignore me as well. I find that calling out his name does not usually work at first when trying to change this. It is important to make contact such as touching his shoulder or going over to him. Calling his name from another room in the house does not work because they find whatever they are doing more important and you are not in front of them so they find it easier to ignore you. When he would ignore me I would talk about the situation at that moment it happened and let him know how it makes me feel and how that is not the correct way to act with people especially your parents. I told him that when he wants my attention I give it to him and I would like to be treated the same way. I tell him that we are family and need to have respect for each other and show it as well. It is important for all of us to think about others. I have noticed his actions change. I call for him once and he answers and comes. It is important to stay consistent. I tell him before we get out of the car to go to the park that when it is time to leave I will tell him he has 5 minutes and after that it is time to go and I do not want him to ask for more time. It really makes things a lot easier. Hope things get easier for you.

Hi L.,
I would recommend an assessment by an occupational therapist. This can be done through your local school district. I am doing this now with my son and the OT is making some great recommendations for sensory integration. It may well be that he's hearing you but that some other issue is going on - and there are lots of resources out there. My son is constantly on the go and seeking that "sensory input" so to speak...so now we can do something to help him. I can recommend the OT I've been going through if you live anywhere near Irvine.

I completely agree with the previous post that too much is expected out of kids, and not only do parents expect too much, but they expect it without any explaination of the expectations or without any modeling. That said, make sure that when you speak to your child you aren't just yelling from the other room- go to your child, get down to his level, then talk. And two books I would suggest- "The Mommy Manual" (can't remember the author) has some ideas on excersizing focus- The author is super Christian, but a lot of what she says applies to anyone (I'm not, I mean I'm Christian but not super, and I got a lot out of it). She has like five adopted kids with Downs Syndrome in addition to her own kids (I think she had three), and she is a firm believer in Maria Montessori's teachings, which is what she bases her focus excersizes on. Also, read Marc Bledsoe's "Parenting with Dignity" which is one of the best discipline books on the market (and I'm a child development person). I used it before I had kids in my classroom, and I use it now. And while of course you should talk to your pediatrician, don't jump to any conclusions. I think often (at least in my experience) parents just decide that their child has ADHD and there is no talking them out of it- I really like the way your request is worded, though. You obviously want to try everything else, first. Good luck!

I am an elementary school teacher and deal with this at the beginning of each school year. What you are teaching your son is listening skills, which is an essential life skill. One suggestion: instead of asking him if he heard you, ask him to repeat back what you said to him each time you talk to him. You can even make it a game. I do this with my students. I ask them a a question, and if they can repeat what I said back to them in a sentence with the correct answer I reward them. As a result, my students are all terrific listeners. Hope this proves helpful.

L., you may want to consider having him evualated. This sounds really scary but an evualation will confirm he's a robust and precocious four year old or if he needs some additional assistance from Mom and Dad...simply a tool for both of you. This tool will enable you to make a plan as to how to best help him. It could be something as simple as creating a reward system for good behavior (sticker chart) or something more involved. In my humble opinion, the earlier we're able to help these little guys in their lives the sooner we can put them on a successful path in family life and eventually scholastic life.

Have you discussed this with your son's pediatrician? It sounds like you'd be best getting a professional evaluation of your son's development and their recommendations for how to handle it. This way you know you're dealing with the real issue and not just symptoms, which could lead you down an incorrect path. It could be something simple or something a bit more complex. While these things can be scary, it's also better to get information and action plans sooner, rather than later. Best wishes.

Have you taken him to his pediatrician? Has the doctor looked at him and diagnosed him? I have a suspicion; however, am not qualified to diagnose, hence, suggest strongly you go see his doctor and discuss that with him or her. You can then run some tests and get verification on what is needed to be done with your son to help him. It doesn't sound like early temper tantrums to me like the 2 and 3 year olds have. It could be something else and early detection or diagnosis would help all of you out!
Hope this helps.

A little about me:
Was a nurse for quite a few years, also a teacher and a mom.

My 5-year old daughter is the same! It drives me crazy!!!! So I know where you're coming from... I personally dont know what to do, so if you find good advice let me know.... Please, oh yeah and also about the previous comments, at a parenting class I had gone to I was told that usually we dont expect much from our kids, so I dont understand, first we dont expect much then we expect too much, I dont know but if u find a solution please let me know! Good luck!

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