Trivia: I know pretty much every word to the Bill Cosby “Himself” performance. I listened to it over and over at my grandparent’s house on their record player when I was a kid, and years later when I was working in a video store, it was the one constantly-entertaining-but-still-PG video I could pop in the deck and let roll on the monitors stationed around the shop.

The entire thing is genius but lately I’ve been thinking about the Brain Damage routine, which, well, if you haven’t seen it, please enjoy:

My god, this is a perfect depiction of our house.

Didn’t I just TELL YOU not to do that?

Uh huh.

What did I just say?

[mumble] You said what for not for to jump onna COUCH.

I’ve said this a hundred times, haven’t I? I said no jumping on the couch, that means I do NOT want to look in there and see you guys jumping on the couch. Do you understand me?

Uh huh.

(2 seconds later)

STOP THAT! WHY ARE YOU JUMPING ON THE COUCH?

*high-pitched chorus* I don’t KNOW!

Everyone knows children’s brains are formed of large chunks of Silly Putty and clouds of easily-distracted bees, but man, sometimes I can’t believe the effort it takes just get someone to carry out ONE directive. I feel like a deranged border collie, nipping and nagging at the heels of my kids in order to herd them towards the thing I’ve asked them to do: “Brush (yap!) your (bark bark!) teeth! Walk to the bathroom (yip!) NOW, and pick UP your toothbrush (nip nip) and—PUT DOWN THE TOY, and (yap!) GO BRUSH YOUR—WHY ARE YOU SITTING THERE AAARRGGGH (bark bark bark *overwhelmed piddle*)”

Anyway, I actually sort of have a serious question for those of you with preschool-aged kids. Is it pretty typical for the 4-5 age range to be, you know, not so great with the focusing skills? Like, I have a friend whose daughter is the same age as Riley and she’s reading entire books and coloring big awesome pictures and, well, in my house everyone’s much more about running pell-mell from one thing to another, and the reading skills are coming along but there is SO MUCH impatience and distraction and NO ONE WANTS TO SIT STILL and every drawing looks like a frenzied tornado because HEY LET’S RIDE BIKES.

I’m kind of exaggerating, but really, I am curious as to what age a person should start expecting and demanding better listening/attention skills from a child, because I really don’t know. I know some kids are naturally more inclined to quiet activities that involve concentration and some just want to fling themselves facefirst off the couch all day long (cough cough cough DYLAN), but when does the Cosby-described brain damage start to recede a bit?

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Barbara
Barbara
12 years ago

Still waiting…..I have 2 boys and they always need to be reminded again and again to do anything that involves a chore :)

Jen
Jen
12 years ago

Mine is 6 5/6 yrs old. She can focus on one thing, it’s just NEVER the one thing I need her to do. Like today she was giving her doll a bath for 10 minutes when I was asking her to brush her teeth.

harmzie
12 years ago

OK, so I’ve got three and either that’s perfectly normal and continues *at least* until 10 (hoping not far beyond), or I am screwed. Starting to think the latter. In which case I give up and the lunatics can just have the asylum.

Sometimes “Do [A], and then [B] will happen” works. Not consistently enough for a Harmzie’s Law of Childrearing though.

I’m just another overwhelmed-piddle producing border collie. Excellent analogy (Unfortunately).

Rachel
12 years ago

I too grew up listening to that record. We had it in our collection, right next to the Roger Whittakers and the *Christmas in the Country* one.

As far as focusing, I’m sure you’re hearing this in all the comments, but it depends SO much on the kid. My brother and I were both unfocused well into our teens. I have one child who is incredibly focused, even regimented, and one who forgets halfway through putting her shoes on that she does in fact have two feet. She’s ten. The focused boy is almost 14, but he’s been like that since he was 6 or so. I’m guessing it’s a developmental milestone and that Riley will hit it sometime soon. :)

js
js
12 years ago

My daughter is (almost) 9 and I still have to yell at her to brush her teeth about one million and infinity times. And then I usually have to yell at her to do it again and THIS TIME WITH TOOTHPASTE! I’ve finally let her shower by herself (without me supervising), and more often than not, she gets out and says “Oh, I forgot to wash my hair. And my body.” Um…that’s EVERYTHING you have to do!!! What. The. F?!

So, I have no idea. If you find the magic answer, let me know. I feel like a damn drill sergeant over here!

twojams (Shannon)
twojams (Shannon)
12 years ago

I didn’t read all the comments, so someone may have already said this, but I think it may have to do with siblings and the mini-herd mentality. My daughter (6) and my son (almost 4) are both are pretty well-behaved, generally. EXCEPT when they are with each other. Then it is just as you describe above, so perfectly. I’m just hoping (desperately!) that it gets better soon.

Anne
Anne
12 years ago

when does the Cosby-described brain damage start to recede a bit?….

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, well, let’s see, my son is turning 13 this month and he’s still got it. I think the answer is maybe AGE 30 or so…

Karl
Karl
12 years ago

My wife and I first saw Himself (on tape, I guess?) some years after it came out. We must have acquired the whole brood by then (hers, ours, and theirs) because it was just way too appropriate. I remember that we were laughing so hard that we couldn’t breathe, and had to stop the playback because we couldn’t see the TV for the tears. It is one of the greatest riffs on parenthood ever, and it’s funny because every word is true.

As for being able to focus, I don’t have anything hopeful for you. Girls seem to be better at it than boys, at least in the younger years (ie before age 30). We have one boy who was making study flashcards at age 9, and another who at age 30 is just now figuring out what “focus” means. Just go with the flow, and remember to “beat him if he teases”. (Lewis Carroll.)

Caitlin
12 years ago

I don’t have kids, but when I was right out of college I lived with my (30 something) aunt & uncle, and my two little cousins. My boy cousin was 4-turned-5 while I lived there. When he got overwhelmed or distracted (which was OFTEN), they used a trick to bring him back down to earth that worked 95% of the time. He would be whining or distracted or not listening or whatever and they would say “Ben. Stop. Look at me/Eyes on me/Eyes right here/[whatevs].” while making the peace sign with their fingers and pointing it/drawing it from his eyes to their eyes (You know, like Night at the Roxbury “You, me, you, me”).

It immediately snapped him out of his little world and would focus him on them and what they were saying. It blew me away the first few times I saw it, because it worked so well and then seemed kind of obvious after the fact in an “well, of COURSE that works!” kind of way. I mean, using your voice was one thing, but something about the physicality of it broke through the barrier into his little world and helped him connect and listen.
I’m not sure it will work with Riley, but it might be worth a shot.

Liz
Liz
12 years ago

hee! i have a great memory of being 17 and “rafting” down the level 1 river with my uncle, 10 year-old cousin, and almost-7-year-old cousin (my uncle’s son). li’l cousin was behind me and was flailing more than paddling, and i remember thinking about a kind way to say “stop hitting me and my paddle with your paddle, and keep down the splashing too while you’re at it”, and finally said, gently, “keep your paddle right by your side”. he tried, and was marginally less splashy for one stroke. my uncle snickered and said, “if you tell him that 5000 more times, he *might* remember to do it!”

i don’t know about typical attention spans. i’m a physical therapist and while i do work with the preschool demographic, all the kids i see are developmentally delayed…so…yeah. typical kids seem like brilliant geniuses to me, and the actual brilliant geniuses seem like tiny sages.

Erin
Erin
12 years ago

Ummm, have you been to my house recently because you just described my boys (20 months and 4.5 years) to a T! I feel like I’m always on my older one about SOMETHING. It’s really exhausting. I’m hoping the brain damage is peaking now and will be history by the time they are teens. Is that too much to ask?

Marje
Marje
12 years ago

Linda – Some of it is just kids being normal kids, but some of it can be the expectations you set for yourself.

A book I loved – Love & Logic: Magic for Early Childhood. I was especially a fan of giving kids the control to make bad choices, and then, as a parent, learning to let them live with the consequences. We can’t protect them from everything – but we can do our best to teach them to make good choices.

SKL
SKL
12 years ago

I tend to agree with the boy-girl thing, on average. However, my younger daughter (3 in January) is reading a little AND needs to be reminded continually to do stuff. I am struggling to define her issue. A few times I have gotten all militant about it and punished for every failure to attend, which worked somewhat, but I can’t maintain that in the long run. Sometimes you just gotta laugh. Now she’s in an emotional stage where she’ll get all hurt when I frustratedly point out that I’ve asked her 100 times to put her dang shoes on. The thing is, I know she “hears” everything (even when she shouldn’t). She has an awesome memory, and she often reminds me of things I’ve forgotten to do. So what the heck?

Older sister (3.5) is the opposite. She thrives on rules, routines, order, planning, etc. But, her reading skills are behind her sister’s. So I’m not sure the two are related.

Nicole
12 years ago

I think it is a

Nicole
12 years ago

I think it is a boy versus girl thing at this age. My 5 year-old sat down with me for an hour and a half yesterday morning to work through an entire (!) preschool skills book without letting her attention wander. Too much. On the other hand, I think we had such a successful morning because our TV had been disconnected for 3 day. I was really shocked to see what a great thing this was for her. I had been allowing/relying on the tv after school as a way to unwind from a long school day, and also giving me some time to feed the baby and make dinner but I think I’m going to have to suck up the pain and just keep the tv off. Its weird how sitting and staring at the screen actually seems to make her more distracted. You could give it a try with Riley and see what happens.

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[…] the life they have. They write about broken relationships and hope for the future. They write about I DON’T KNOW. They do the best Oscar recap EVER. They write about dive bars and about Irishmen. They make the […]

SKL
SKL
12 years ago

One thing that is working somewhat right now is to just stop repeating myself. I figure the kids got programmed to expect me to repeat myself 100 times, so why bother to act on the first (or 10th) request? So when I catch myself repeating a request more than 2x, I will say “I’m not going to say it again” (followed by a proposed consequence if necessary). And then I try very hard to follow through. It is a hard habit to break, though.

Example: “Get your coat on. … Get your coat on. … I’m not going to say it again. I’m leaving in 1 minute whether your coat is on or not.” Child miraculously finds focus and performs.

But the other day, after a morning dawdling/pestering session: “Don’t leave without me!” “Why shouldn’t I?” “Because I’m your daughter.” Aww. “Get your dang shoes on then!”

JMH
JMH
12 years ago

I love Bill Cosby! I often hear myseld saying “Come here. Here! Heerrree!” heh. :)

As a mom and an elemnetary teacher, I can tell you that there is a BIG difference in the development of boys vs. girls. In general, boys are much more active and thier gross motor skills are usually more developed than girls by age 5. The opposite is with girls. Girls usually have better fine motor skills at that age. That being said, there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule. If Riley is in a structured day care /pre-school setting, I am sure he is getting used to focusing (listening to a story) and fine motor prctice (cutting, coloring, etc) I am sure he is just fine.

JMH
JMH
12 years ago

Ugh! My spelling is HORRIBLE in my comment above. I need to drink more coffee before I post next time. SORRY.

Sharon
Sharon
12 years ago

Since I have two boys, I’ll blame it on boys. My boys never sat and colored, or read or wanted to do crafts. Just destroy!

Tela
Tela
12 years ago

Don’t sweat it Linda. Reading in preschool is advanced for starters. But really it comes down to boys vs. girls in our house. In preschool my daughter always sat quietly reading books and loved to draw and color. My son can’t be bothered with reading and coloring. If I want to do something art like then I have to give him the task of cutting and using the glue stick. He really isn’t interested in just sitting down to color. He is jumping around and bouncing from one thing to the next, exactly as you have described. Aren’t little boys wonderful?!

Rachael
Rachael
12 years ago

Reading? At 5? Hahahahhaha. For my boy, who is really fairly bright, we spend most of our days repeating instructions (stop. now, right now, STOP. Did you hear me say stop? What does STOP mean? Do you think that you should stop what you are doing when I say STOP?) rinse, repeat, infinitum. Boys are just boys–they don’t have the same maturity level as girls at the same age–but at least there is less drama!

Michelle Whitehurst
12 years ago

SOOOOO normal for boys. I have a six year old who has the attention span of a gnat. And thank you for making me laugh. You speak the truth!!!! You are awsome!!!

kristylynne
kristylynne
12 years ago

You just described my four-year-old. At his annual teacher meeting at preschool, they asked us to work with him on focusing skills. Apparently they have to ask him to do things five or six times, too. So. We work on it, but I really do think it has to do with the fact that he is a high-energy boy and has always been so distractable. I just hope he’ll outgrow it.

Have you read 1-2-3 Magic? The counting thing works in our house, usually, most of the time.

Molly
Molly
12 years ago

We had that Cosby record growing up and listened to it all the time too! My husband and I often quote the part about his kids drinking his drink –

“What did I say about not drinking my drink?”

“You said not for to drink your drink”

“Then WHY did you just drink my drink?!”

Classic!

Jenny
12 years ago

Linda – you will learn very quickly that you are going to have a completely different child rearing experience than friends who have daughters. Period. It’s like we live on two different planets. When my friends and I go out for Girls’ Night Out, we literally separate at the table by who has daughters and who has sons. I don’t understand a thing about cliques and “the pops” (popular kids) anymore b/c I have boys who don’t care about that. Now all of us boy moms sit together b/c we can swap opinions about who’s the best kindergarten teacher for our boys (again, completely different needs than for girls) and what baseball season is shaping up like. While the girl moms talk about what are good books for positive self-image, etc. It is quite a hoot!

Kami
12 years ago

My four year old is exactly the same way. Way too easily distracted by shiny objects.

Lisa
Lisa
12 years ago

It wouldn’t hurt to have his vision test specifically looking at how he focuses and tracks with his eyes. My middle son was in fifth grade before we found out he COMPLETELY SHUT DOWN one eye when he tried to read. He also failed miserably on tracking a ball swinging above him. We went through 12 weeks of vision therapy and he’s fabulous now. If we had found about it earlier, we could have solved the problem in WAY less time and saved a WHOLE bunch of headaches for both him and his parents. It’s a pretty standard test and wouldn’t hurt to check out. For my son, it made all the difference in the world.

Molly
Molly
12 years ago

To SKL: you know, amazingly this tactic works on husbands too! I swear 75% of the time when I ask my husband something and he says “what?” I don’t repeat myself and he will answer me. It’s like he has been trained to have to hear something repeated even though he heard very well the first time.
Usually I know he truly hasn’t heard me if there is just zero response. I wonder if my son will wind up with similar “selective hearing”…

Melis
Melis
12 years ago

This is our house too. Our 5 year old son was talking to his dad this morning and I caught the following:

g: But I don’t know how to read…

G: Not too many kids your age can.

g: But ALEX can read..

G: I KNEW IT!

Alex must be the wonder child because he can also tie his shoes and doesn’t insist on always being right, much unlike little g who is adamant that he must have velcro shoes and jeans with “the thingies” in them (adjustable waistbands). I’m thinking we need to have Alex come hang out at our house for a weekend-little g just might decide shoelaces are not our enemy and books aren’t Kryptonite.

Heather
12 years ago

Not sure about younger children, but some kids just are this way. My fiance’s 16 year-old son drives me batshit crazy sometimes, and it’s the same step by step routine. With maybe an errant “when I ask you to put your plate in the dishwasher, it does NOT mean sit on the dog!”

Of course, then they turn around and do something sweet, like a few weeks ago, he was in the kitchen for EVER so I irritatedly asked him what he was DOING for the love of GOD. (He’s been known to get distracted with the water on and start like, playing with the magnets on the fridge.)Turns out he was trying to scrub a spot on his bowl (it’s been there forever, it doesn’t come out, we’ve tried)and he didn’t know that it was permanant. “I’m just trying to wash the dishes for you!”

We too, love Bill cosby himself. We quote the “chocolate cake” segment regularly.

TranceJen
12 years ago

It’s totally a boy thing. Mine is eleven and I am STILL a border collie.

Bark bark bark.

saly
12 years ago

My 6yo is just now really able to focus on tasks, although, when earlier in the week his kindergarten homework assignment was to write out his numbers from 1-50 you’d have thought they were asking him to write out The Preamble the way he was carrying on for crying out loud. School (even though he was in daycare/preschool before) has really helped. We’ve also had him in Tae Kwon Do since he was 4. Now my 4yo daughter? She can sit and color a masterpiece, or paint or work on a puzzle with no problems. She asks for homework assignments when 6yo is doing his. Like night and day.

I don’t know if it is a gender, or a birth order thing, but there are marked differences between the 2.

Diandra
Diandra
12 years ago

I haven’t gone through everyone’s comments, but I suspect they amount to the same thing: we all suffer from this. I have two boys, ages 7 and 10, and I go through the same routine. “Get in the shower, get in the shower, get in the shower.” “Brush your teeth, brush your teeth, brush your teeth.” “Get dressed, get dressed, get dressed.” It never ends. They’ll be like that FOOOOOOOOORRRRREEEEVVVVVVEEEEEERRRRRR.

Brian
Brian
12 years ago

I love Bill and will rent this video as soon as I can (now that you’ve reminded me of it).

I wanted to stop and comment about something more general. I absolutely love coming here to read your posts, they always make me smile. I just wanted to say thank you very much.

sue
sue
12 years ago

i LOVE this entry. i have always loved bill cosby, and have this particular album on my ipod. to be honest, i don’t think children ever leave the Brain Damaged phase..at least not until they have children of their own.

as for the serious question about attention span etc…not really sure. i’m still waiting for my son to actually get his damn nose OUT of the books and run around and play actual kid games, and he’s 18 now. i think each child is different, and from the sounds of it, your kids are just super high energy. i’m not sure if you’ll be able to tell if this is actually a “problem” until they are in school. if it actually stops them from learning, or attending to the classes, then there might be an attention issue. “back in the day” my brother was like that…would much rather run around and go 100 mph until he just dropped into sleep at night. he did fine in school, and still loves to read and has a good job. I never ran around (or really moved, if i could help it) and ALWAYS had my nose stuck in a book, and couldn’t focus on a blessed thing…for me, not much has changed.

sorry, this answer was much longer than i intended.

Jen
Jen
12 years ago

I haven’t read all of the comments but I have two boys, 8 and almost 6 and they NEVER sit still. They play baseball, basketball and whatever other possible ball thru my house. I repeat myself over and over, “no wrestling each other, no wrestling each other, no wrestling each other”. I walk out of the room and they are WRESTLING EACH OTHER!!!

Katie @ Can't Get There From Here

My oldest is in kindergarten and it takes us 30 minutes to read a 6 page chapter in her I-can-Read! books…and that’s with me reading every other page. She will be mid-sentence and all of a sudden start playing with her fingernails or just roll over and close her eyes. And I am all FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, FINISH THE DAMN CHAPTER ALREADY! Fun bonding time, my arse. As for the rest of the time, one afternoon she will sit still for hours drawing, the next she is the poster-child for ADD. I’ve decided she has a finite amount of focus and when it’s gone, it’s just gone.

All Adither
12 years ago

100% typical. I have an almost 5 and almost 7 year old and they can’t focus worth a damn. Unless it’s on the TV.

Sonia
Sonia
12 years ago

I don’t know when it stops. I just had to scream back and forth with my NINE YEAR OLD to “Stay put! Sit! SIT! SIIIT DOOOOOOWN!!!” just to read through this full post.

Jennifer
Jennifer
12 years ago

I have 15 and 16 year old boys. “Pick up your towel, brush your teeth. Did you brush your teeth? Why not? I paid over $5000 for those teeth. Put up your backpack and your shoes. Give me your lunchbag before something rots.” My husband and I say these things daily – more than once and sometimes they don’t get done until I stop and watch. They make good grades, though, so I know they can follow directions when they want to.

cakeburnette
cakeburnette
12 years ago

as a general rule, boys take longer to “get” the focus thing. Of course, some boys have no problems and are calm and focused from birth, but this is rare, otherwise the “general rule” wouldn’t exist.

I have one of each gender and yes, son is WAY worse at following directions because of lack of focus. But the daughter’s problems following directions can usually be chalked up to “just don’t feel like minding.” Which is just at irritating as the boy. Sheesh.

Sarah
12 years ago

I have no idea of the answers to your question as I have a 3 year old and am in full-blown herding mode, but I had to let you know that I am still giggling at the “overwhelming piddle” line.

Terry
12 years ago

my daughter is a toddler and has just started terrible twos! I noticed that she does have trouble focusing — just says words in a stream of consciousness — but not really paying attention to what she’s saying, I sure hope it gets easier!!

Samantha
12 years ago

Oh my God, I totally just added this to my Blockbuster queue.

Amanda
12 years ago

Dude, I have been wondering about my kids and the flipping tv. Their ears do. not. work. I have girls, three of them, 2-5years in age. I have the same question because I am trying my damndest to be understanding and patient.

HollyB
HollyB
12 years ago

You have a husband right? Does he listen and do what you ask? Riiiight…so the answer is never, or at best, it comes and goes. I have an 8 year old boy and we are CONSTANTLY trying to come up with new and creative ways for him to own some responsibility over his own habits. We have tried charts, reward chips, bribes, punishments and whatnot. Right now, the reward chips work best – if he earns 20 in a week he picks a toy from a prize box. Try incentivizing them to listen with big rewards given for initial follow through and some kind of prize or something to work toward. My best friend is a social worker and they use the same system all the time with mental patients, so it has to work with kids, right?

Shin Ae
12 years ago

Hee hee. My boys were totally like that, and still are to a certain degree. They are six and eight and it has gotten a little better. Sometimes I think it is more exaggerated because they feed each other’s behavior. When I have one at home by himself, it is a completely different world.

And as far as how I have felt through the whole experience, well yes, deranged border collie sounds about right.

.303 Bookworm
.303 Bookworm
12 years ago

@ Christina

I have a stepson who never wanted to read anything other than a comic. But liked to be read to. So I picked up a book that he’d enjoyed on dvd (Harry Potter) and we started reading together. I read a paragraph, he read a paragraph. 14 months later, he’s re-reading the entire series for the fifth time. Mind you, he was seven when we started this, might be different with a younger child. Good luck!

JandPmum
JandPmum
12 years ago

I so had the same concerns about my 4 year old as he didn’t seem to focus on anything. At his ‘before school checkup’ they pointed out that his focus is fine as long as it’s on something he’s interested in – construction and vehicles!!! Whereas little girls are more likely to focus on things relating to what their mum does like household chores and stuff. Gotta wonder why we don’t always focus like little boys – more about what we’re interested in and less about household stuff, lol