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Q: HELP!!! My son is eight and in the second grade. He is a normal, healthy little boy who likes to run, jump and play. In addition, he is becoming very computer savvy.
My problem is this: He cannot stay focused in school. He has been tested for ADD and was found to be "borderline." So he doesn't qualify for LD classes. He is, however, in a program called TITLE 1 Reading where the teacher helps him to read. According to his teacher he is only reading beginning to middle first grade level. Also, he has very poor writing. Now when he is working with me, I find him to be a very quick study and no reading or writing problems surface. Also, he attends Sylvan Learning Center to help him boost his self-confidence and improve his reading skills. I have put him on the Fiengold Diet that eliminates dyes and preservatives from his diet and daily life.
I am exhausted in finding out what to do with this child. Everything works for a while and then he lapses back into his "I don't care" attitude. I have threatened him, punished him, rewarded him when behavior was appropriate and still he will not do his work in school.
The administration in his school wants me to put him on Ritalin and I am very, very opposed to it. But, increasingly, I am getting worn down and ready to give in. Is there any advice you can give me? Your imput is appreciated.
A: I do not doubt that your considerable effort to help your child perform better academically is well-intentioned. I suspect, however, that all this special attention and concern (Feingold diet, Title I reading program, Sylvan Learning Center and your additional working with him at home) has made him feel very overworked and anxious about pleasing you and his teachers. And to top it all off, now he hears you talking about putting him on drugs because he "won't" cooperate. He's just got too much pressure on him for an eight year-old boy and it's rather difficult for him to feel good about himself when all his authority figures at home and in school are telling him that he is a failure, in so many words.
Let's take a look at a few of your concerns from a developmental viewpoint. Reading is such a complex skill, learned at varying ages by kids, that I would not be overly concerned that your son is "behind the curve." He is getting attention in the Title I program and as long as he shows growth in that area you should be pleased. Reading isn't something one should "push" kids to learn -- it doesn't work like that. His handwriting is probably a result of not yet mature fine motor control with a pen/pencil. Boys take longer than girls do to achieve this dexterity. Again, patience and encouragement are the keys in this area, not pressure and criticism.
I am interested in your statement that "...when he is working with me, I find him to be a very quick study and no reading or writing problems surface." Why do you suppose that he has these difficulties in school but does not exhibit any of those problems with you? I would think that a discussion between you and his teacher should yield the answers to that question. Discussing different approaches to learning in an open-ended, non-judgmental manner with his teacher (and the folks at Sylvan) will be beneficial.
Please stop threatening, punishing and rewarding him regarding his school. There is a real danger that all this pressure and disappointment that he feels from you could result in his turning off from school altogether and giving up trying to live up to your expectations. I've seen this happen on countless occasions. Based upon your documentation of his difficulties, Ritalin is not the answer. It's unfortunate that the school recommended it and it would not be the remedy for your feeling like you're close to "giving in." Please try some of the attitudinal shifts in thinking that I've suggested. It might also help your child to be able to talk to a compassionate therapist who could help him sort out all his confusion, fears, anger, and disappointment surrounding these issues. It's hard for kids to be under this much scrutiny on an ongoing basis.
I know that you'll do what's best for your child. Your compassion and empathy will be the cornerstones of your supporting him.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.