Solutions For Parents

Middle Childhood » Discipline and Guidance

Nine year Old Trouble With Directions

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Dear Dr. Susan:

My son is almost 9 in the third grade and gets good grades but the teachers tell me that he is “off task” and has trouble following directions. Yet as I said he gets above average grades and plots above the ninety percentile on achievement tests. We live in a small rural community and try to provide him with educational experiences at home and go to plays, the library frequently and to larger towns to expose our children to different things. But how can I get him to pay better attention while at school. He does not have behavior problems at home and does as he is told. He gets time outs at school for mainly not paying attention to what the teacher is saying yet gets the good grades, I wish they would back off and lighten up because I am afraid he may start to dislike school which yet at this time he is always ready to go.


Dear Casey

When children get to the third grade level, teachers change their expectations for classroom performance, in many ways. Teachers are on the verge of teaching them research skills, outlines for longer length papers, and reading that provides a more indepth treatment of subject matter. They expect children to have grasped basic organizational skills in the earlier grades, but unfortunately, many children have not the maturity or the reading and writing skills to have assimilated these skills earlier. Personal work habits have not been established.

Teachers, unfortunately, do not start in kindergarten and first grade to begin the process of establishing good work habits. When families are too busy with jobs and their own life styles, and when children are over-programmed, out late at soccer, going to basketball at 7:00 p.m. and in bed later than they need to be, the idea of teaching children to get organized and stay focused rests with parents.

So start with a schedule, rules for getting work and jobs at home accomplished, working for privileges for those times when everything is done on a daily basis, etc. Establish a time and place and materials to use for projects and homework, etc. Select activities carefully so children do not go all week being sleep-deprived.

Select journals, notebooks, buy stickys to use as reminders, offer plenty of reminders and prompts, and have plenty of clues around the house for what is expected (lists, notes on the refrigerator). Don’t carry grudges if a child messes up his work or his schedule, offer gentle, not harsh discipline, and only allow privileges like TV or video when organizational tasks have been completed. Be firm about the few rules you do have, and have family meetings and conversations at mealtime, so your son knows you are in tune with his needs and what he has to do at school. Talk to the teacher every few days, and listen.

Listen to your child especially, and read to him or play board games, or interact very purposefully. Free time with you is a big reward. No bribes. Thanks for writing. Give your name next time, I’d appreciate knowing how these ideas work. Get that boy organized! It’s your responsibility.

Susan H. Turben., Ph.D.

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