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Gifted First Grader Is a "Holy Terror"
Q: My seven-year-old daughter was accepted into the "gifted" program at her new school this year and has been a holy terror ever since! In pre-K and kindergarten she was considered very bright and the teachers liked her. But this year, her teacher is really struggling to get her to: listen and comply, remember (she's very forgetful), stop goofing around, and finish her work (she starts math problems, has 45 minutes to do them and doesn't even attempt 85 percent of them!). She's also very rude (at times), lashes out at us, and talks back constantly because she feels we need to hear and understand her side. She's a very loving and sweet child but seems to be going through a "stage" that neither her teacher nor I can handle! Could she be ADHD? How do I find out?
A: The behaviors you're describing (particularly because they seem to have arisen just since this new class placement) sound more like a mismatch between what your child is being asked to do and what is developmentally appropriate for a first-grader. There's a big difference between the "hands-on" kinds of activities for pre-K and K and the more structured day in most first grades. But, 45 minutes is a long time to expect a seven-year-old to focus and work independently on math problems, even in a gifted class. At this age, children need lots of hands-on experience with math manipulatives and not a lot of paper-and-pencil work. Your child may not understand what is truly expected of her.
Have you ever had a chance to observe the classroom, say during open-school week? Is there a big difference between your child's behavior and the other children's in the class? Children react differently when they're in over their heads. Some withdraw, some act out. None of this excuses rudeness and unwillingness to comply with rules in the classroom, however. There is a great book appropriate for both parents and teachers called How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish. It gives many tips to help adults avoid conflicts with their kids.
If none of this helps, I would contact the school guidance counselor or psychologist and ask them to do an in-class observation. Certainly, your daughter could have ADHD, but only a good evaluation can determine this. If you want to go that route and school personnel are not helpful, call the toll-free number of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders) at 1-800-233-4050 and ask for a referral in your area. Good luck! And thanks for your patience.
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For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.