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Smart but Disruptive

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I have an 8-year-old son named Andrew who, from his first breath, has been a demanding but interesting child. He was tested at school last year and scored in the gifted zone. He had a fairly large vocabulary when he was one year old but his behavior in school has the teachers pulling out their hair. If it is something new, then he really enjoys learning. He speaks out in class, cannot sit in his chair for long periods of time except for things that he enjoys like reading. Then he will sit fairly quietly. The school, in September, broached the subject of Ritalin to me but since Andrew had open-heart surgery in 1993, I don't want him on medication.

There is no gifted program at this school for children that are above average in certain subjects. He gives me a hard time at home as well, but I try to do my best. Can you give me some advice? He scores highly in science, math, and reading. Should I consider home-schooling? I'm about ready to pull my hair out because all the teachers say he's so intelligent but his behaviour disrupts the class etc. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

A: Even if Andrew had not had open-heart surgery, I would not recommend that you take the suggestion of these teachers and put Andrew on Ritalin. In the US suggesting that any child who is a "behavior problem" for teachers should go on Ritalin has become frighteningly common.

Your Andrew sounds like a bright, curious, energetic boy who pays attention and enjoys the subjects he likes and acts antsy and "disruptive"(translation -- he won't sit still and be quiet when he's bored) at other times. If you or I as adults behaved like your son, meaning being attentive and enjoyable when we did things we liked and fidgeting about when we were bored would we be put on medicine or merely considered normal?

You could consider home schooling; it's a huge challenge but I do know many parents who have successfully done it. Network a bit(I bet the internet would turn up a support group or at least information on home schooling) with others who are doing it. Also research schools who pride themselves in adapting their teaching methods to the learning styles of their students. Andrew should not be wrongly categorized as learning disabled because his teachers could not find ways to teach him. I know you are frustrated so turn some of that energy into searching for alternative educational environments that would welcome your son as opposed to medicating him. Good luck.

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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.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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