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ADHD and Bad Behavior
Q: My seven-year-old was diagnosed with ADHD about a year ago. At the beginning of the school year he was fine. Now he's having problems with talking out of turn and back talking the teacher and I. I have punished him by taking away things he likes to do, but this hasn't helped. I don't know if this is a nervous response or something else. Do you have any suggestions?
A: I wonder if things changed in your son's classroom after he received the ADHD diagnosis. Did the person or group who made the diagnosis suggest any strategies for teachers to use that would be helpful to your son? This might include having him sit closer to the teacher, so she can interact with him and engage him more easily. They might have also suggested keeping the length of activities short and giving your son a variety of ways to learn a particular concept, so that he can learn by doing. If these kinds of suggestions were made and were helpful, the teacher might want to meet with the Teacher Assistance Team (it may be called something else in your son's School) -- it's a group of teachers who put their heads together to come up with ideas for their colleagues. A consultation from the school psychologist (including an observation of your son) could also yield some interesting and helpful information about how best to help him and his teacher.
It may be that your son is having more difficulties because the curriculum is getting more challenging. The beginning of the year could have been the "honeymoon" period, and now things (yes, in 2nd grade!) are starting to get more serious. There's more reading and writing and a greater need to sit still for longer periods of time. These requirements may be placing your son under increasing stress and he may be letting you and his teachers know it by his behavior. Remember that with kids, behavior always means something. The key here is figuring it out. What happens when your son talks back? What kind of a reaction does he get from his teachers and the other kids? Does this behavior seem impulsive -- is he able to control it, or does it just "pop out?"
If your son genuinely feels bad when he misbehaves, he might just be having problems controlling himself, which can be related to the ADHD. If being punished doesn't work, then this is even more likely. It's important to remember that kids don't like to misbehave! They like to get along, do what's fun, and have good feelings about what they do. If this isn't the case, then someone needs to help you get in there and try to determine what needs are not being met, and to set up a plan of action that helps get him what he's looking for (which is certainly not punishment). It may be more structure, it may be that he's bored and needs more stimulation, he may be seeking attention, or he may be angry or scared about something. Talk to an experienced child psychologist about this. And don't wait.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.