DH and I are at our wits ends with DS(5). We've had such a difficult time with behavior issues lately that we're wondering whether a mental health evaluation is in order. We've always known DS was highly gifted - putting him in school at age 4 seemed the natural thing to do. As part of early admission DS was tested for social and academic readiness. He tested well above average in social readiness and as highly gifted on standard IQ tests. DS flew through kindy without any academic issues - he'd mastered curriculum for the entire year in a few months. Behaviorally, things haven't gone so well. DS has always been super intense and has never been a great listener. In school he was said to have impulse control issues but it was attributed to his young age. At nearly 6, the issues seem to be even more pronounced if that's possible. DS loses control very easily and throws tantrums regularly - both at school and at home. He's also having more issues with listening, following directions, and behaving according to well-known rules. DS is being punished for something nearly every single night and is constantly reminded to follow the rules at school - on Friday he was sent to the principals office for lying to two teachers and being clearly disobedient.
When asked why he misbehaves he always responds with "I don't know" or "my heart / head made me do it". We've tried rewarding good behavior with rewards that build upon each other. We've tried taking away privileges and toys. We've tried time outs of various lengths, punishment "chores", writing apology letters, standing in the corner, and spanking. Nothing seems to work. He'll walk out of a serious discussion with us to only be back a few hours later with an equally grievous behavior.
I feel so lost right now. It seems like we've tried everything and continue to lose ground with him. It's gotten to the point where I just don't like DS and I don't like being his mother. I plan to call his ped and ask for a pysch consult this week but I have no idea whether I'm even on the right track.
Its probably worth getting the pysch consultation. Just make sure they have a pediatric specialty.
My gut feeling (from my background) is that putting him in school that early was a mistake. To say that he mastered the curriculum in a few months is no big thing at that level. My daughter mastered it before she even started, and there is no way I wanted her to be younger than her classmates when she hit highschool. By the way, what grade is he in now? In first grade they still kind of expect kids to move around, and still change the subject fairly often. By second grade they expect them to stay seated, and stay on task for much longer periods of time. Also, is he in a public school or a private school. Have you visited his class to see how the teacher interacts with the kids? Its always possible that part of this is due to the teacher having a very structured class. I purposefully put very bright boys in classes with much slower kids, because the teacher (usually a combo class) who usually got the real sharp kids was so structured that some kids couldn't handle that.
Also very intelligent kids learn quickly how to manipulate the system to their advantage, so some of this is going on if he is being overwhelmed by the circumstances.
I do know that at this age, punishing him for what he is doing at school is a waste of time. Punishment at this age has to be immediate and consistent. The school needs to deal with school issues and you need to deal with home issues. Don't mix them up. Spanking is a huge waste of time and harmful. You don't discuss things with him. Make the consequence an immediate timeout and be very consistent. It will take up to 3 weeks to work so don't panic and try something else if it doesn't work the first few times. For more details on how this works, get "SOS Help for Parents," by Lynn Clark.
I would also suggest that you make sure he gets plenty of activity. He needs it.
I think the most important question is - DID THIS HAPPEN LAST YEAR? And I would not hesitate to speak to last years teacher for more information. If it did not, then he is reacting either to the teacher or to the expected requirements of children much older than he is. If this was not going on last year, than I would say you have a child that is highly frustrated. Unless something changes, it will only get worse. And if he is intelligent as you say, he will figure out ways to do so.
And no, I don't think you have tried everything. But that's not your fault. And I really do understand where you are coming from. This is worth all of your time and energy. So I would recommend first checking out the teacher and her practices, Talk to last year's teacher (she might also give you some inside info on this years teacher). Get the book I recommended and follow its guidelines. Don't punish him at home for school actions. Make sure he is active after school. A good nights sleep is very important. And it won't hurt to get a doctors opinion, especially if he had these problems last year! Best wishes.
Oh, and if you don't mind let me know what grade he is in now and what kind of school.
Just to add something (I have to say I agree with Sandman): There is a chance that your son is just exhibiting signs of being gifted, as well. Gifted children are far from easy children and can be quite defiant. To touch on something Sandman said - punishing them outside of school for something they did in school could make things far worse. A gifted child will see you as overstepping your boundaries by punishing them for something the teacher already handled, or should have handled. Also, you mentioned you've tried several different forms of punishment. Do you intermix them? How consistent have you been with each form? Have you tried the same type of discipline for more than a couple weeks at a time? You need to be very consistent because if the punishment changes for each infraction, he will react as though he's only getting punished some of the time. Gifted children, especially, have a strong sense of justice. If he gets toys taken away for hitting someone but spanked for throwing a temper tantrum, he will see the inconsistency there (and will probably feel like hitting someone is not as big of an offense as a tantrum). I agree with Sandman that spanking is not the way to go about this, by the way.
Perhaps before you get a psych evaluation, you could talk to your son's school counselor and teacher to find out if they find his behavior to be consistent with a gifted child - especially one who is quite young compared to his classmates. Or, at very least, be sure to make it known at the psych evaluation that your son has tested gifted and is the young one in his class. I, personally, would wait on the evaluation until eliminating the possibility of his giftedness being the cause (and possible issues from being so young). Sometimes, bringing mental health professionals, can do more harm than good - not always, but sometimes. So, I think it's best to check other possible issues first.
The first place to examine when there is bad behavior is the home environment. If this is your first child, you may not yet have grasped the art of parenting. Like anything else, it is learned. And the more experience your have (the more children you have), the more proficient you become. Are you too strict? Are there too many rules? Do you over-supervise him? Do you give in to him when you shouldn't.
Is he lonely? Does he have friends come to play with him? Before the modern era children had brothers and sisters. This is where their life was. The parents were more like captains of a ship. Little children need the companionship of other children. With small families, or only children, the parents become their "friends." But it is not the same thing.
And what about his diet? Is it high in sugar or other unhealthy items? Sugar can be very agitating.
You want the best for your son, and that is a good thing. But you may suffer from being over-consciencious. Punishment is never the answer. At least it wasn't for me. When he has tantrums, ignore him. Walk out of the room. Pretend you don't hear him. Don't give him the attention he is demanding, because it is the wrong kind of attention. There is a limit to how long he will be able to yell at a bare wall.
What I am suggesting is that you sit back and take a new view of the situation. Look at families who do not have this problem to see how they handle their children.
I appreciate you taking the time to reply - I found your comments quite thought provoking.
DS is currently in the first grade in a public school. The issues aren't new, he did the same things in preschool and kindergarten to one degree or another. In preschool we were told his actions were normal and age appropriate. We focused on praising DS for good behaviors and redirected him to extinguish bad behaviors. In kindy his actions stood out a bit more but again we were told they were clearly age appropriate. We're only a week into the new school year - I've not yet made the time to stop by DS's class.
DS's intellect is insane. He was bored in kindy and is bored in first grade. While his hand-eye coordination is age appropriate (e.g. writing), his ability to process information is off the chart. He finds the topics the teachers discuss as simple minded and baby-ish. DS has been known to correct inaccurate information and, in a number of cases, educated his teachers with his incredible breadth and depth of knowledge.
We debated for quite some time before putting DS in school early. Intellectually it was the right thing to do. We had the support of the school district/principal, his ped, and an independent child psychologist and school counselor. We struggled with the decision for some time - how do we challenge his intellect on a continual basis and still let him be a kid? Our preference would be to have DS in a Montessori school but alas it wasn't quite within our budget this year. Our hope is to transfer DS to a Montessori school for second grade.
I mentioned that your response was thought provoking. One of the things we stumbled upon in kindy is that DS seems to do best when we're constantly involved - constantly providing him with reminders. Your response reminded me of how very successful that technique was for us. Routine changes with summer and a serious illness on my part made it tough to keep up with those consistent reminders. It's definitely something we need to pick up again.
To answer questions from others':
DS is encouraged to play hard each evening. With summer wrapping up here, DS often uses his time outdoors to practice the sports he excels in: baseball, soccer, and basketball. DS rarely eats sweets/consumes sugar - most of what he eats is whole food in nature. He has a younger sister in the house that is 2.5 years old. He spends the bulk of his days playing with DD while at home and with a number of friends while in school. That said, while DS likes playing with other children, he prefers to hold conversations with adults.
DS is our first of two children. I'm the first to admit we don't know everything and that we need help evaluating how we parent him. He does exhibit each of the four intensities seen in gifted children ... I've always wondered how much DS's giftedness plays into all of this.
Thank you for your response. I guess what I am still slightly puzzled about is the comparison of his behavior to prior years. It really sounds like his behavior this year is much worse than prior years. I can think of two possible reasons.
The first is that things are really different for him at school this year. You must make time to get into the classroom or find out from other parents what the teacher is doing/expecting. That is the only way this really, really important question will be answered.
The second reason is that he is doing what really intelligent kids at this age do, and that is to try and shape the world to their needs. They very quickly through trial and error find out what works for them and follow it. As they get older and gain more control, they find other ways besides tantrums, etc. to achieve their wishes. And of course, there are all sorts of inbetween situations.
I should mention that I really don't know what sets off his tantrums or what his misbehavior's are. More specific information could lead to more specific actions. But some ideas.
School wise - I'm glad its first grade. A good, self-confident, experienced teacher should be able to challenge him. I am hoping that this is not a year around school, and the teacher has only had him for several weeks at the most. At the start of the school year, the teacher knows very little about the kids, thus they establish routines that they expect all to follow. As they get to know the kids, they can began to differentiate instruction. It is really important for you to talk to the teacher! You want to find out what is going on and you want to explain your child to the teacher. It's very possible that a lot of this will blow over in a couple of weeks. One thing about intelligent kids, they do or can adapt quickly. However, if you have a young inexperienced teacher, its a whole different ball game and a much longer post. Kind of brings me to the next point. You spoke of Montessori schools. Both of my children spent preschool and Kindergarten in Montessori schools. It was a great experience. But they also can make transistion back into public schools difficult. All things considered, what you want to do is to research the teacher choices for second grade. A good teacher is what you want. There really are advantageous and disadvantageous to each system - in the end, it will come down to the teacher. I could go on about schooling for a long, long time. But you need to get involved - now.
At home, there are some things that even at this age that you can do to help out at school. Model and insist on empathy. Treating people equally. Being a helper is huge.
You said, "I've always wondered how much DS's giftedness plays into all of this." My experience (from my own kids and the kids that I was privileged to teach) is that it is a big part of this. I know that there are websites that deal with gifted kids. Do some research, it should be helpful. Also go through a bunch of pages on this web site and look at the posts about kids in the same age group. There are some very good suggestions.
Remember, that consistency on your part is very important. Its what "SOS" stresses. Don't expect overnight miracles. Immediacy is important. No long term punishments. Starting over after each punishment - no grudges. Concentrate on only a few important things at a time. This is all standard stuff because it works - it's just not easy.
Long story, short. You are going to need to do some homework/research. You have a unique child which will bring you lots of pleasure. All of you just need a bit of direction.
By the way, the serious illness of yours could have been part of his problem. A sharp child will have picked up that something is wrong with mommy. That can lead to tremendous stress at this age. Since he doesn't know how to deal with stress (heck, most adults don't), that could explain a lot too. Have you talked about your illness with him? Even if you are not back to 100%, he needs to know what is going on. He will sense/feel the changes in routine and react. I should also mention cause it is quite common. If your newest child is around two, it is now competing for your time in a whole different way than when it was just lying around in a crib. Its not unusual for the older child to act out due to this change in parents attention. If your child is over 3, it shouldn't be as much of a factor because he has had time to get used to the change.
So there is a ton of stuff to work on. I'd deal with the school situation first (by getting a feeling for the dynamics of what is going on). Next, comes some consistentt discipline measures at home. By the way, its super important that both you and hubby agree on these measures or DS will play you like a video game.
I've added you to my watch list so if you wish to get back to me after a meeting with the school teacher, I'll see it. Best wishes.
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