How to Get My Child to Focus at School

She’s having trouble keeping her grades up. He just can’t sit still. Maybe they’re disruptive; maybe they’re easily frustrated. And you don’t know what to do. You know you have a smart kid, a good kid. So why are they acting out?

Chances are, your child has too much energy – or too little. Fortunately, there are some simple natural solutions.

Too much energy? Try brain breaks.

Human bodies – especially growing ones – are built to move! And a child who spends school days sitting at a desk and their free time in front of a TV or computer is going to have some pent-up energy. It can help a lot to give them short activity breaks, or “brain breaks,” during homework sessions or even in class. Studies prove this extra physical activity makes an impact:

  • Physical activity can help youth improve their concentration, memory and classroom behavior.1
  • Exercise may reduce anxiety and depression and promote positive mental health.2
  • Physical activity breaks enhance on-task classroom behavior of students.3
  • In particular, elementary school girls who participated in more physical education had better math and reading test scores than girls who had less time in physical education.4
  • More about brain breaks.

Where to find brain breaks.

There are tons of free resources for brain breaks! Here are some of our favorites:

Too little energy? Try school breakfast.

It’s a struggle just to get our kids up and dressed in the morning, let alone put together a balanced breakfast they’ll actually eat. Maybe your kids aren’t hungry when they first get up and won’t eat what you give them. And later, just when they’re sitting down to learn, they’re hit with distracting hunger pangs.

School breakfast solves all that, and it’s not only easier on you; you know it will also meet high standards for nutrition. Studies show it makes a real difference:

  • Children who eat breakfast at school – closer to class and test-taking time – perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat breakfast at home.5
  • Student academic achievement increases, especially for math, when schools offer the School Breakfast Program.6
  • Providing breakfast to students at school improves their concentration, alertness, comprehension, memory and learning.7,8,9
  • More (printable!) stats about breakfast.

As a parent, how do I make this happen?

  • Get support from the experts. Contact your district’s child nutrition director or health/PE coordinator. These professionals are well-versed in programs like brain breaks and school breakfast and can help you adjust policies, expand breakfast programs and more.
  • Present the facts. Print out the stats above and take them to your PTA and school administration; sometimes the first step is recruiting other parents and teachers to your cause.
  • Join the movement. Join your district’s School Health Advisory Council – the group responsible for helping develop the district’s School Wellness Policy. There, you can directly affect change by making school breakfast and brain breaks a part of policy at your child’s school.



1. Strong WB, Malina RM, Blimkie CJ, Daniels SR, Dishman RK, Gutin B, et al. Evidence-based physical activity for school-aged youth. Journal of Pediatrics 2005;146(6):732-7.
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines advisory committee report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2008.
3. Mahar MT, Murphy SK, Rowe DA, Golden J, Shields A, Raedeke TD. Effects of a classroom-based program on physical activity and on-task behavior. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2006;38(12):2086-94.
4. Carlson SA, Fulton JE, Lee SM, Maynard LM, Brown DR, Kohl HW, et al. Physical education and academic achievement in elementary school: data from the early childhood longitudinal study. American Journal of Public Health 2008;98(4):721-7.
5. Vaisman, N., Voet, H., Akivis, A., & Vakil, E. (1996) Effects of Breakfast Timing on the Cognitive Functions of Elementary School Students. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 150, 1089-1092.
6. Frisvold, D. E. (2015). Nutrition and cognitive achievement: an evaluation of the School Breakfast Program. Journal of Public Economics, 124, 91–104.
7. Grantham-McGregor, S., Chang, S., & Walker, S. (1998). Evaluation of School Feeding Programs: Some Jamaican Examples. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 67(4) 785S-789S.
8. Brown, J. L., Beardslee, W. H., & Prothrow-Stith, D. (2008). Impact of School Breakfast on Children’s Health and Learning. Sodexo Foundation.

By Mary Dickson, RDN, LD

Mary is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a background in clinical dietetic work, as well as school nutrition. She has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2012. When she's not working, Mary enjoys spending time with her family and their Great Dane. Learn more about Mary

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