HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

My Child Would Rather Play Than Work

By Dr. Joseph Gianesin, Behavioral Consultant


I have an 8-year-old girl (who is a twin). I have separated the girls for the first time this year. I put my one twin daughter in a very "low maintenance" classroom, as she is a self-starter, and does not need a lot of supervision. She is doing very well.

However, my other daughter went to a very structured classroom, as she is a bit of a socializer and would rather play than do her work. She is also very bright. Her teacher and I are both frustrated with her because we both know that she is very capable of going above and beyond the work that she is doing, yet she chooses to take the easy way out and does just enough to get by.

If you sit with her, she does reach the standard that her teacher and I know that she is capable of. She is easily distracted, daydreams and has problems with concentration. Her father and brother have both been diagnosed with ADD. Her pediatrician refuses to test her, saying he has known her since birth and would have seen signs of this as she has grown.

How do I get my daughter to achieve her full potential?


You have done a great service to both girls by recognizing their differences and individual strengths. That will be a wonderful gift to them as they mature into independent young women.

The daughter you are most concerned about has good ability to understand and complete the school work when she receives extra attention and is under adult scrutiny. That demonstrates that she can do the work; however, the motivation to do it independently is not there.

The symptoms you described - easily distracted, daydreams, and difficulty in concentration - may in fact be a mild form of ADD. Most pediatricians only see the patient when they are in the office. Pediatricians rely heavily on reports from caregivers and school staff to assist them in making a diagnosis regarding ADD. Getting a second opinion or filling out a simple questionnaire known as the Conner's Screening Device will assist you in ruling out the possibility of ADD. Girls tend to have different symptoms than boys with this disorder so it might manifest itself differently for your daughter. For example, many girls who have ADD are more inattentive than hyperactive.

Educators have several simple techniques to assist students with poor attention problems. Try to use headphones to filter out noises around her. Also, seating arrangements in classrooms can reduce distractions. Simple behavior management tools can assist your daughter to get the most out of school. Many schools and teachers use behavior plans to structure and mold a child's behavior. For example, you state that when she gets one-on-one attention, she rises to her capabilities. The teacher could reinforce this behavior by rewarding her when she demonstrates independent quality work, and giving her extra attention after she does this.

Dr. Joseph Gianesin is a professor at Springfield College School of Social Work. He has more than 25 years of experience as a child and family therapist, a school social worker and a school administrator. Along with his academic appointment, Dr. Gianesin is a program and behavioral consultant for public schools in Massachusetts, helping them develop and manage programs for children with significant mental health problems.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"Let me respectfully advice that children are being burdened with too many obligations these days. Perhaps your child (responding to someone below) would rather play games than practice writing his name because it is in his nature to play...and that there is nothing wrong with that. All these parents seeking 'professional' help for children who are too bright and unamused with the busy work given to them in government schools should pause to think for a moment what is the root of the problem. I am more intelligent that most of my middle and high school teachers ever were....never had a problem telling my geometry teacher that there were no such things as straight lines to her face in the middle of one of her 'lessons', or telling a teacher who asked the class to measure the volume of the classroom that there were no such things as rooms because the microscopic pores in the cinder blocks meant that there were no rooms at all and that everything was connected. My teacher called me lazy when I told her that the volume of the room was in fact infinite, telling me that I was just avoiding the assignment. I will tell you that I was just looking at the world differently and that most of the world's best and brightest were either hated (Einstein) or expelled (Franklin) from public schools. If you truly love your children and care for their education....send them to a private school because public school fosters mediocrity and punishes those of us who dare to think/a! ct out of the norm with labels and Ritalin. "
"HELP! My son is 12 and he has a very difficult, analytical personality. When confronted with his actions, he has to provide an explaination and will not take responsibility until I impose punishment. If the teacher is wrong, he will verbally correct him/her and they become very angry. He is easily distracted and would rather play than do his work. This is his first year of middle school and it seems that the only resource they have is discipline. The consider him a discipline problem because he is disruptive, but I feel it is deeper than that, so I am seeking professional help. Getting help seems like a long process. Meanwhile, how can I manage at school? He is not violent or disrespectful. Most of it is 'horseplay,' which is causes a disturbance in the class. He is the class clown. He is well liked by the students and is very social. The teachers are frustrated and they have teamed up against him. One teacher has become physical with him, which has been dismissed. They! find reasons to send him to In-School-Suspension so they don't have to deal with him. He is the tallest person in his class and is often the center of attention. The counselor is 'absent' in the process and the school sociologist has not been engaged. I am searching for a charter or private school with structure and smaller classrooms, which seems to help him. Do you have any advice?"
"My son is 5 yrs old and in pre-k. he is improving compared to when he started, but still needs some improvement. He is more interested in watching tv or playing then practice writing his name, numbers letters. Even flash cards have not worked he gets bored too easily. DO you ave suggestions or know something I need to do to get him ready for kindergarten."
"my son is 6 years old. because of his kindergarden teacher . i requested that he receive extra help with reading and math for his first grade year. so far in many areas he seem to do well, he is a very honest little boy, he is smart and has great laugage skills. he also is kind and polite. but his first grade teacher seem to think he is too immuture for his age because although he can do his work when it come to writing in his daily jornel or coping off the board he seem to get confused or sad and some won't do the work or finish the work. i work with him at home each day and sometimes it seems he is to young for some of the work. but in other areas of his life he is simple great. he is very thoughtful and thinks alot about live around him can i help him in school when parents are not allowed to sit in. i do not understand where or how to get him help. who do i seek to help me help him. i just don't understand what she means when she talks about him not focusing enough! . she wants him to work independly but seen i can't veiw this *focusing issue* what can i do. i love my son, and if you where to meet him you would see too that there is something very special about him, in a great way. please could you help me so i can help my son it is feb. and he's 2 marking period report card is just heartbreaking. accourding to the report you would think that he can't even write his name ...this is totally inaccurate..he is really very smart ..what can i do .."
"Dear Karla - You realy need to get her tested! She is getting angry because no one understands what she is going through in her head! My son has ADD and he is the same way! He can be the sweatest child, but make him angry (by not listening or interupting) and WATCH OUT! Since being diagnosed we have seen such a change (for the better) Its a mild case and thankfully he only needs 5mg of medication. I believe that I also have ADD, but I was never diagnosed, your daughter sounds like me when I was growing up! Let her know how much you care about her ALWAYS, try and be patient with her and understand that she probably has hundreds of ideas going through her head and the smallest noise will throw her completely of track. Good Luck! ps. there is a great book that I am reading its called Nurture by Nature - The edison trait! Read it you'll have a better understanding of her JIK you may have doubts about the ADD."
"I have a 15 yr. old daughter who is always getting in trouble at school rather it is fighting or back talking to the teachers. I do not have that problem at home with her. She was sent to Turning Point High school for six weeks and did well there. Turning Point have smaller classes and one on one with the students and teachers. I do not know if she has ADD or what the problem is with her. She is easily distracted, does not stay on task, is eaisly angered when things do not go her way and she does not complete her work in cleass. The time she spent at Turning Point she was on task they had a little problem with her completing her work but all in all she did o.k. They work on the kids level. I have taken her to Anger Management Consuling thinking she would open up to her. She shut down even more. I have two other children a 13 yr old who has Sickle Cell and is in and out of the hospital all the time and a 10 yr old. I feel I have tried everything that I know of to f! igure out what is going on with her and I am not getting any where with her. It seems as if the problem is getting worse. Can you give me some advise as to what else I can do to help her and get her on the right track? Thanks for your time and help. Karla Byrd"
"Excellent ideas on how to help a child who seems to have the ability to do the work but possibly not the stay on task. I have a similar situation and find it difficult to find specific examples of how to help my child. Medication has not been ruled out but the pediatrician also feels that at best it's a borderline condition. Thanks for the info."
"I think the article was great good questions with great feed back. I have a 8 year old son whos going to the 3rd grade hes good with reading and multiplication but whats a good way for me to keep him reading and what stategies can I use to help with his division "