Kindergarten son having trouble staying on task

Over the past few months, Mrs. S and I have been working with our son, a typical “boy’s boy”, on his behavior at school. He is a bright and perceptive kid, but his fine motor skills are a little lacking, he is more than a bit stubborn (a family curse unfortunately), and he is very energetic. He usually has no problem with socialization, but his teacher said he often will not participate in group activities at school. He is also on the borderline of accepted age, so he is a pretty young K student. We decided to enroll him because he has done well in structured environments in pre-school, is bright enough to handle what he needs to learn, and is a physically large kid (95th+ percentile in weight and height).

Our first thought was that he may be ADHD, but he definitely has the ability to stay focused on things when he wants to, and can sit through a movie, playing a game, or us reading a book with him. We have tried both reward and punishment programs, and his teacher has tried to give him “fidget toys” such as a ball to hold on to during floor time while they read a book or learn as a class, and this is hit and miss.

The major problem that we have consistently with him is him staying on-task. He will either do something totally unrealated to what he is supposed to be doing, or if he does not have that option, he will sometimes just sit and do nothing at all. He knows the consequences of his actions, and I am not sure if he cares really.

Anyway, long story short, or long, is that we are at wit’s end trying to figure out ways to help him stay focused. We want him to succeed, and I think he wants to succeed, because he is rewarded when he does, but we are at a loss on how to help him stay focused on doing something he does not want to do. I understand that he may just need to mature and grow out of this, but any advice on how to work with him in the meantime would be tremendously appreciated.

Your son sounds a lot like mine.

I’m not a doctor, and won’t try to diagnose a kid I haven’t met. The one piece of advice I’ll give is this: do NOT assume there’s no ADHD just because your son CAN focus for long periods of time when there’s something that interests him.

If he’s been tested for ADHD, and the doctors say that’s not the problem, great. But if he hasn’t been tested, please understand that having ADD or ADHD does not mean a kid CAN’T pay attention. It means he has litle or no control over what he pays attention to.

If you’re a normal person, you probably find, say, doing your taxes to be tedious and tiresome. You don’t find it interesting at all, and would rather not do it… but you can FORCE yourself to pay attention to boring things.

On the other hand, if you’re a normal person, you may LOVE a certain book you’re reading. You may be utterly engrossed in it. But you can FORCE yourself to put it down, if you know you have to get to bed, or if you know you have something more important to do later.

In short, if you’re a normal person, YOU are in control of what you focus your attention on.

A kid with ADD or ADHD is not in control. His problem is twofold:

  1. He can’t focus his attention on things that aren’t immediately appealing, no matter how important it may be.

  2. He can’t STOP focusing his attention on the things that are appealing, no matter how many times you try to redirect him.

So what you’re saying is you’ve got a five-year-old who is energetic and fidgety with a short attention span? Welcome to five-year-olds.

Chill out, and let him learn. The worst thing you could possibly do is stick some overdiagnosed label on him. It doesn’t sound like any of the problems he’s having rise to the level of actual pathology.

Does the kindergarten use tables or group desks? My son is having pretty much the same issues right now (I mean that almost literally, he is almost certain to go home with a yellow card for not focusing or fidgeting today.) But, his teacher got him a desk of his own, it is not isolated or away from the rest of the class, it is his spot to work though. It seems to have helped. There is also a sense of boredom coming from him. We are working with his teacher to keep him challenged, but he is ready for first grade now. Perhaps your son has the same issue?

Just keep doing what you are doing. Your son sounds a lot like mine actually, right down to being a bigger child than most kids his age. I put him in kindergarten because of a few reasons, among them because I felt he was ready and so did his preschool teacher, as well as I was trying to avoid him being the oldest/biggest kid in class (his birthday is mid-school year).

I ended up holding him back this year. IMO he really wasn’t ready there was lots of problems keeping on task and dealing with other students. This year has had it’s hiccups but overall has gone much better. I would suggest getting him looked at by a pediatrician though. We are in the process now, but even if it turns up nothing it is helpful because it eliminates that factor while still letting him be coded at school to get supports to help him, and if it *does *turn up something you already have documentation and plans in place instead of fighting for it years down the road. It’s easier to get help at this age than it is when they are a teen.

friedo- IMHO, I am on the same page you are, and I think the expectations placed on Kindergarten behavior, and to a degree, learning levels, is a bit much. Unfortunately, his teacher does not seem to agree. I will say that he has had problems with new environments/ routines in the past, BUT we have been able to get him back on track pretty quickly each time.

howye They do the group desk thing, and the teacher has tried giving him an assigned spot on the floor, and letting him sit at a different table to help him focused. It helps one day, then not at all the next, and that is a major part of the frustration.

astorian thanks for the insight, we will have to look into it further. We recently had a group meeting with the school psych, his teacher, the principal, and an intervention specialist, and they are trying a few things, including the assigned spots as mentioned up-post. We have been working with him at home on his fine motor stuff as well through playing games like Kerplunk, and doing puzzles.

One other piece that I neglected to mention above- they do testing to check progress, such as letter identification, phonetical sounding, etc, and he does well above average work when he does not know he is being timed, but when he know he is being timed, he struggles.

Normal for a kindergartner. Unless the kindergarten teacher indicates his level of distraction is abnormal, don’t worry about it (too much).

My daughter is the same - its now fourth grade and is now to the level that we are trying to get her more focused because she hasn’t matured out of it enough. But she’s made huge progress since kindergarten.

(I have a number of friends who are teachers - both of mine were old kindergartners because all my teacher friends said “in my career I’ve seen a LOT of kids who would have benefited from a year of maturity had their parents not enrolled them as soon as possible, and almost none I’ve thought would have benefited from an earlier start.”)

I should add, if it’s not egregious and disrupting others, then likely he does just need more time to mature and will settle as time goes on. With my son I think there might be some problems but most last year were aggravated as a result of not being quite ready. In many ways my son reminds me of my brother who does have some diagnosed learning problems.

Talk with his teachers, discuss ideas on how to work with him and just keep at it. When he’s ready, he’ll be fine.

I’m not an expert, but he sounds pretty normal for a 5 or 6 year old to me. Is there really a problem here than time/maturity won’t fix?

Another here to say it sounds just like my 5 year old. He is constantly in trouble (notes sent home from school) about not finishing or paying enough attention. His teacher has quite a reputation for demanding some pretty specific schoolwork out of them (I think the word “nazi” has been thrown around).

I used to cry at night thinking that there was something I was doing that wasn’t good enough to get him to mind at school, or that he was going to have major problems. Then I used to cry because I thought he was being badgered at school to COLOR IN THE LINES AT ALL TIMES, PRIVATE! AND DON’T BOTHER ME ABOUT BEING LEFT HANDED - JUST USE THE RIGHT HANDED SCISSORS AND DO NOT GO OUTSIDE THE LINE WHEN YOU CUT!

But now I get the notes home or talk to the teacher and she starts in on how he can’t read and write as well as some of the others and his coloring isn’t up to par and I just say “Yeah, he’s five. You know how those kids like to fall all over the spectrum.” I once answered every statement with “Yes, but he’s five.” And we’re not talking about not peeing on the floor-level stuff. I would have handled that. We’re talking about stressing over his reading and writing level, which I think is fine for a 5 year old.

Anyway, all I do is make sure that my son knows that in her class = her rules and that we follow rules even if we don’t like them (he hates coloring, but sometimes it’s part of their homework so yes, we have to do it). We act nice and bite our bottom lips sometimes and get the work done. Otherwise, ya know, he’s five. He’s going to do a lot crazier and worse shit in the future than scribbling on a penguin picture instead of staying in the lines. I’ll save my stress for that, TYVM.

It comes not only in time, but with consistent reinforcement of the behavior you expect too. The elementary school our youngest two go to started them off with a daily planner that has to be signed by the parent and returned the next day. The teacher would make notes like “Sophie didn’t listen when it was time to be quiet” or “Max was daydreaming instead of doing his spelling test”. We would then have a discussion with the offender and explain to them why that behavior was not what we wanted. We also started a good behavior chart. Every day that they came home without a “naughty note”, they got a point. Once they reached X amount of points, they got a toy. The chart was up on the wall so they could see it at dinner too.

The good behavior chart lasted for 1 year for the boy and 2 years for the girl and now they don’t need it all anymore. (Of course, they’re not perfect and we pretty much expect slip-ups now and then, but if it becomes a pattern, that’s a different story).

2 boys now in Grade 1 and 3 so I’ve been through this. I was lucky in a way, both my boys were born in March and so by the time JK/SK started they were older than most (5.5 and 6.5) but even then focus can be a problem - because they were 5.

I suggest you have a second boy - experience takes the edge right off parenting.

Your son sounds like my son too. He’s 21 now and he’s fine.
When he was in first grade I was ganged up on by his teacher, the principal and the board of ed psych person; they insisted he had ADHD. The school paid for him to be evaluated by an independent psychologist. When I picked him up on the day of his appointment the woman who watches him after school showed me an article she read in the paper about Aspergers’ Syndrome. She said it sounded like my son to a T. I read it too and it did sound like him: very intellengent but will talk your ears off about something that interests him even if you don’t pay attention to him; has trouble concentrating on things that don’t interest him. When I brought him to the psychologist I asked if it was possible that he had Aspergers, but she said no, it was definitly ADHD. My son was placed in ‘special class’ and the school receives money from the state for the special ed. In other words, it’s a way for the school to boost their budget.
Fast forward a couple years, my son moves in with his Dad in another town, goes to the new psychologist there and lo and behold, the diagnosis is Aspergers.
Aspergers is supposed to be the mild end of the spectrum with Autism being the extreme end. There are degrees of Aspergers too. Does your son have trouble making eye contact when he speaks to strangers?
Look up Aspergers here on the SDMB and on the web and see if you think it fits. If it doesn’t then don’t let them place your son in special ed. We had to fight like hell to get him into mainstream classes again.
There is also this, from AHunter3 about psychological labels.

Another vote for don’t read too much into it. Of course, I just have a three (almost four) year old boy, but I could see him having similar “issues” at that age. One thing our Parents as Teachers rep recommended in general for behavior is to make sure he gets plenty of exercise and outside time, so we started taking our son out for walks, or just letting him play outside in the evening (thank goodness it’s getting warm). This was something that had sort of fallen off our schedule thanks to winter. Anyway, things usually evolve into him running down the sidewalk giggling wildly with me jogging after. We do it every day for about 20-30 minutes after we get home. I walk in the door, put on my shoes, if I can’t hand the baby off, I toss her in the stroller and off we go. It’s good exercise for him, whoever is with him and it really helps him settle down at night. Plus, he sleeps like a rock, which is good since he’s a ridiculously early riser.

How rigorous is his sleep routine?

I was just privy to a conversation where someone in education said that a lot of border line/ ADD, in his opinion, could be treated effectively by improving sleep routines. He talked a lot about going to sleep at the same time every night, getting a solid eight hours. As the very first action parents should take, when faced with this diagnosis, and the second should be severely cut down on TV stimulation. He insisted counting the hours when it might be on, when the kid wasn’t watching it, in a shared livingroom for instance.

He spoke very convincingly and authoritatively, and those with him seemed to abide his opinion. He also said, he had seen remarkable results. Unfortunately he spoke to the fact that, for many families, it was easier to medicate a child than alter their lifestyles. I hope he was wrong about that, 'cause it’s kind of sad.

To be honest, I don’t really know if he was a blowhard, speaking from experience, or what. Just a conversation I found myself in. Maybe try something like that to start, see if it helps.

Thanks everyone for the suggestions and advice. I think Mrs. S. gets more worked up about it than I do, and we both seem to get more aggravated at the teacher than him. In our meeting with her and the school team, she measured his off task behavior time, but did not provide a comparison with the other children in the class, which was interesting, and not exactly smiled upon by the rest of the school staff. I think she was a bit miffed that he sat quietly and did drawing and writing the entire time we were there :).

To address some others specifically, if the behavior pesists, we will definitely look into Aspergers and ADD or ADHD further. I will pay a bit closer attention regarding his socializing patterns Emily.

st pauler we do a reward chart with him, which has had varying success. He gets a sticker for every “green” day, and when he gets five, he gets a reward such as a small toy. Somedays it works like a charm to otivate him, other days he could care less.

grey we are done, a 13 year old daughter with anxiety issues and a 5 year old boy are plenty enough for us!!

elbows- his sleep routine is pretty sound, usually in bed between 7:30 and 8, asleep by 8:30, and up between 6:30 and 7. On days he gets up before 6:30, he usually has a lot of trouble containing himself, but otherwise we have not seen much correlation. We’ll try the TV time cutdown and see if that works.

I think cutting down on the screen time is actually an excellent suggestion. I’ve noticed that our son turns into a royal brat on weekdays when we let him watch TV because the TV displaces the physical activity he needs to get rid of some energy before bed. Plus, unstructured play without any media allows him to transition better between activities - for example, from playtime to dinner; dinner to bath, etc.

We allow weekend cartoons (though should limit it further, in my opinion), but weekdays are no TV days. We tried using TV as a treat on weekdays, but it always, always backfires on us. Weekdays when TV is permitted almost inevitably also contain tantrums, backtalk and tears. But that’s just our experience. Each kid is different (plus, mine is right at that prime tantrum age).

But…but…experiment is the core of good science! :wink:

How does he react to pain ( mild boo-boo’s or Big boo boo’s) and new settings?

Dp loud noises bother him?

Does he have a problem with New Things and Changes and Won’t Let Go of the day you got rid of something, despite it being broken and beyond repair?

Is he verbally almost adult like in conversation? Almost too logical for a kid his age?

Has he ever been in a Turkish Prison ? :slight_smile: