HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

My Son Does Not Listen in Class

By Dr. Joseph Gianesin, Behavioral Consultant


My son is having problems in the classroom. He is not listening, playing instead of working and not following directions. The teacher tells me that it has to do with this age. He is the youngest in the class and he has not matured yet for his age.

He is always getting his name on the board and coming home with notes from the teacher regarding his behavior. My husband and I have tried to reward him when he does not get his name on the board and/or bring notes home from teachers.

So far it has only worked once for a week and then he went back to having his name on the board. We also enrolled him in karate and hoped that he would learn some discipline, respect and communication. So far it doesn't look like it's working. He has expressed that he doesn't want to go to karate anymore and cries every time we go. My husband and I are not sure if we should keep him in karate to learn character traits or try another sport. I would like to know how we can resolve these issues.


Your son's problems in the classroom are not unusual. Boys are usually developmentally behind their female counterparts by almost two years in the areas the school requires them to excel. These happen to be sitting still, listening for long periods of time and performing fine motor skills such as writing with a pencil. According to Michael Gurian, author of Girls Learn Differently than Boys: "Research shows us that boys' brains are 'wired' in such a way that language is a more difficult skill for them to acquire and use effectively in learning than it is for girls." Boys have their own strengths at this age that include gross motor skill development and tactile development.

In short, your son still needs time to mature and develop. This is not unusual and experienced teachers know this. Don't stop with the reward system you set up. Make sure the reward is something he wants to work for. Bonding with your child through rewards of time spent with him is extremely important.

As far as karate classes, each child has his or her own preferences. If he is unhappy there, then try something else. As young as he is, you don't know the areas or interests he will gravitate toward. That is done through trial and error, and through observation and communication.

I do require the child to give the activity a chance though because there is a learning curve to every new skill. If he is still unhappy after the designated time of giving it a fair shake, then take him out of it. Being the father of two boys, I know both had entirely different interests. One was very interested in books and creative ideas, while the other was very sports-oriented and enrolled in hockey, track and wrestling.

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

"My son 6 years old in Grade 1, not studying, less of concentration, fear, shyness, slow to pickup and forget very fast, lots of anger, not listening, properly not eating food, not listenning, if we correct him, he is coming to beat. no discipline behaviour wise very bad. please suggest me what I can do to him, Can I show him the Child physchtric doctor or any other doctors. "
"I am having same kind of problem with my son as the comment above. My 11 year old is not having hard time concentrating in the class. He wants to socialize during class time and he gets distracted very easily. I don't know what else to do, because it's affecting his grades. He tells me he's board in the class. Is there anything I can do, he is a bright child but his behavior in the class is affecting his performance in school. "
"I have an 8 year old son who is in 2nd grade, he goes to a private Islamic school, he is taught in English but also learns Arabic and studies the Quran at school. He has had a continuous problem with focusing, listening, following directions and behaving in class since he was in first grade. I do not have very many issues with him at home, he does not talk back and usually follows directions well, he also does most of his homework without any help and focuses while doing it. We have a very strict and consistent routine at home after school; as soon as we get home (usually around 4:30) he sits down at the table to do homework while I get dinner ready, then bath, reading time, play time or tv time, then bed at 8:30 every night, this routine very seldom changes in any way Mon-Frid. I do limit his sugar intake and he does not get pop and junk food very often. He is very kind and caring and seems to be pretty mature or at least at the same maturity level as other kids his age His behavior at school is very concerning to me, he doesn't complete most of his classwork, talks back to the teacher at times, tries to be the class clown constantly, plays around during prayer time (they stop to pray a couple of times a day), disrupts the class by yelling out answers and making noises, refuses to do work that the teacher gives him if he has to miss recess due to too many strikes that day for bad behavior, always "forgetting" to bring home the extra punishment work given by the teacher, and playing around in the bathroom. He also wrote a note calling the sub teacher a Bit#$, after the sub squeezed my sons neck hard to get him to quit talking in class ( this language is not used in my house and given the fact that my son is 8 and doesn't know what it means I just had a long talk with him about bad language). I am very persistent and constant with my discipline at home, if he gets more than three strikes at school he must write 50 sentences that night, on-top of what ever punishment his teacher gives. If I get a phone call from school he has not only sentences to write, but he gets grounded from tv, games, toys, ect.. for a week. I have had several meetings with the teacher and principal, and at one of the meetings the teacher suggested my son be suspended from school for his constant behavior problems and the bad note he wrote as mentioned above, which only happened once, he has not said any bad words at school and does not harm other kids. I recently received an email from his teacher wanting another meeting and she brought up suspension again and sent me a copy of the school discipline policy in the email. I am a full time substitute teacher of 6 years and work with kids of every age group on a daily basis. I feel that my sons behavior is mostly normal for his age, from what I see as a teacher. I do however feel that he needs to start showing some improvement and I am at a loss as to what to do. I do not feel like suspension of an 8 yr old should be an option considering he is not a delinquent, or abusive child. Any help or expert advice would be appreciated, I just need to know that I am taking the correct measures and that my parenting skills are fine. Thanks Tina "
"I have a 7 year-old in first grade and he is having similar problems. His teacher has a scale purple, green, yellow, red, & blue being the worst. He was getting alot of blues and reds but has gotten better after changing his diet to foods with no sugar. Its helped because he is now getting greens but mostly yellows. His attention span is VERY short and is easily distracted and he has a really hard time with reading and comprehension. He is doing great in everything else. He has a reading teacher that comes in daily to help him, he has tutoring Tues-Thurs and we help him every evening and he still is having problems. He gets into trouble because he flat out just doesnt want to do the work (reading & comprehension). He either doesnt listen to the directions so he doesnt know how to do it or he'll go into his own little "I can't do it" world. Does anyone have any other suggestions? "
"Thankyou for posting this. My son is 7 and in the first grade. He has been getting notes sent home about "not staying on task" and "not following directions". This has been really hard for me to hear as a mother. I have been doing my best to foster good habits at home but I guess I'm not strict enough. It means so much to see all the comments and to know I am not alone. Thankyou "
"My daughter is nine years old and in third grade. The other day I had yet another meeting with her teacher wondering why the entire class failed a test and noticed she had my Childs desk of in a corner for her to sit alone. The kids sit four in a group. I was shocked and even more so when the teacher told me that she did it over a week ago. Her reasoning for doing it was vague. I had her move my child back but my child feels bullied by this teacher and we are lost on what to do. Please help? Your advice would be much appreciated "
"My son is 12 yrs.. He doesn't complete his notes and tells lies about this. I have no help from his father and get frustrated with this situation to handle alone. Please help me how can I help my son I have done all possible things like, I have taken favorite fun time from him. I even have his class boysno's and he knows I will check his notes but still he lies to me. He has been doing this since the age of 8. Now I am more worried because ge Is a brilliant student and even doesn't write his exam papers. Please help me. I am not given enough help from his teachers. "
"It is important to find out the reason/s why he is not listening in class. He might be the youngest person in class but it does mean he is not capable of listening nor doing his work. There are other factors behind this and the teacher may need to do something different to make him listen. The teacher can use the method called "reverse psychology". Putting his name on the board every time is making him embarrassed in front of his class. Sooner or later, he would think he is no good at all at doing anything. Age may not be the factor here, perhaps the class activities do not suit for his age. He may want to learn through games or songs. He has to understand why he should be listening and if he does, give him the reward in front of his class, not only at home. It's not fair for him when everyone see him being punished in class but no one see him being rewarded at home. Except his family, of course. If I were the teacher, I may need to adjust my lessons and activities and reinf! orce cooperation in class regardless of age difference. I may not be the "expert" per say, but I have dealt the same problems with my students and my techniques were effective. And the parents thanked me for it. Hope this helps. Good luck! "
"I, too, am having very similar problems. I try the reward system which often does not help. The teacher finds my son gifted but says we cannot excel him without his behavior being in order. I've been making him jog as punishment for bad reports in school and make him do little jobs like pick up all the walnuts in the yard, given the fact that he has an immense amount of energy. I have also recognized that spending more time with him when he does get rewarded has been very helpful in him wanting to do good. Try to set aside a thirty minute activity each day he comes home with a decent score and remember, not always getting a perfect score can be accepted for a child who has a very hard time focusing and staying on task. "
"my son is 6 yrs old studying in ukg. my son dicipline is not good. its main problem for me. but sutdying no problem. he is using some bad words in front of how to i manage? "
"Our first grade class rarely pays attention to what is being taught. They constantly talk and engage in distracting behaviors, even after the teacher has explained not to, such as play in pencil box, read a book, play inside desk, etc. THis is a daily constant battle, even with a management system in place. She also give them a crystal bead when they are on task, etc. It does not make a difference for more than the 'moment,' in which they are rewarded. Beads had been taken away to no avail! "
"This sounds exactly like my son who is also a very young first grader. I have read many books and tried many different techniques, but we still haven't been able to improve things for him at school. Everything I read tells me that his behavior isn't unusual, considering his age and maturity level, but it is very hard to read the notes that keep getting sent home. Dr. Joseph Gianesin says in the response that teachers know some kids need more time to mature so what is the best way to address this problem with them? "
"i have a 10 yr old and every year in every class all week long he does not behave. he is always doing something he shouldnt do and gets in trouble and he knows he should not do it. we put him on restriction after restriction. his father and i do not spank him ,should we start for disaplinary reasons only? i don't like that idea, but what do we do? he taps on desk and lakes noise, misbehaves in hallway, cafeteria shows off please help us what can we do? i never believed in medicating children but what else is left? thanks help us "
"Does writing his name on the board seem to help him? What we do for children in school is supposed to help them and if writing his name on the board helps him to control his behavior, then his behavior should improve. As his teacher writes his name on the board over and over again, his behavior should improve. If writing his name on the board is intended to help him? What is the teacher's belief about writing names on the board? Does she do this as a punishment? Or as an effective reminder? And what is the teacher's style of teaching? Is this an energetic teacher who treats learning as a journey of discovery and works to intrigue her students and keep their attention? Or is the class based more on worksheets and copying notes from the board? A child who is prone to drifting away or daydreaming is helped by a teacher who has a very dynamic style of teaching and who uses many different types of activities to engage the students. If your son does not have such a teacher this year, it would be good if he could have such a teacher next year. It's natural for a young child to want to play- does your son's school allow the children a recess every day? Young and energetic children need time in the school day like recess that's set aside for play. And does this teacher teach listening skills? We're not all intended by Nature to be active listeners but we all can learn better listening skills but to learn such skills, teachers need to be actively teaching those skills. Some teachers inappropriately expect young children to automatically have listening skills but that expectation isn't realistic for every child. You could also work with your son to help him develop more active listening skills. Old games like Simon Says are good for listening skills. Listening to books or stories on tape together are good for building listening skills. Reading aloud to your son helps him to build listening skills. Children who don't listen in school usually don't intend to be disrespectful. Not listening is more a product of their maturing listening skills and their level of energy. Karate is a wonderful activity but I'm not sure that learning karate will automatically help a child to listen more in school. "
"My son too has behaviour problems in school. I hear what you are saying, about boys taking longer than girls, however...what do we do in the meantime? My son is not a hurtful boy. He doesn't cause harm to himself or anyone else. He destroy's the school's property. He scribbles on everything if he doesn't get his way or has to do something he's not ready for. He does not like change and has a hard time following rules and also loves attention. I have enrolled him in football and he seems to like it. His teacher has literally said to him yesterday that if he plans on being bad not to come to the class. She is fed up, I feel like she is sick of him and just hates him so I don't like her. I don't know what to do in the meantime other than just wait...??"
"My adopted son had very similar behaviors and here is specifically what we did. 1. Started a diet that included cor-omega 3 packets. 2. stuck to a schedule that included 1 hour of swimming for fun, or some other exercise he likes, healthy foods, fun movies together, limited time in overwhelming situations, plenty of good sleep with good bedtime routine. 3. Talked with teachers ahead of time to let them know not to give him slack (send to office, I will pick him up)- only happened once. 4. Spoke with counselor who said he has anxiety and suggested some techniques such as review 3 positive things about the day before bed, always be encouraging, teach breathing, limit stress. Happy to report he is doing so well-top of his class academically, lots of friends (thank God), teachers love him, he is kind, empathetic and delightful."
"I work as a pre-school teacher I have found the same problems boys don't like to listen or sit still for the women teachers. You give them an inch they 'will' take the mile. As a male in the room and treating them more masculine with a lower tone in the voice they will listen. I have found at early ages you have to keep repeating what you expect from the male students and boys will avoid menial tasks such as putting toys away, picking thing up off the floor I am unsure if this has to do with male role models even TV shows depict the male on the couch while mother cleans and does house work."
"my 5yr old first year in kindergarten and he wont sit stilling not paying attention to the teacher just misbehaving and getting red dots everyday i need help on how to stop this matter"
"My third grader has a letter on file at his school from his Dr. stating he is to be able to use the rest room at time. It also states that if the school has any questions they are to call the Dr whose number is provided on the letter. The school needed some clarification and instead of calling the Dr or me his mother the school called my son into the office, took him into a private room and asked him questions about his condition and the letter. Can they do this without a parents consent? Why would they even speak with the child and not the Dr or parents. We asked these questions and the school said they have the rights. Is this correct?"
"My son is in the same situation. He attended Kinder twice and now he's doing first grade at 7years old. However, I get notes from his teacher EVERY SINGLE DAY saying he has not been paying attention or working in class except for when the teacher sits with him and helps him out. He has difficulties with writting and reading and he gets easily distracted when doing homework. The reward system doesn't really work for him because he manages to amuse himself with the littlest thing even when each of his privileges have been taken away until he's done with his homework. I'm really desperate and frustrated about it because I do not know how to help him. On the other hand, I wish the teacher was more supportive or at least had more experience with handling these cases instead of just complaining on a daily basis of what he does or does not do in class. :("
"my son was adopted he was in a very bad situation for 5 years. since I have had him for a year he has come a long way. Last year at school he had not problems. Now this year he is good at home church and every where he goes but his teacher sends notes home every day he burped, got up at the wrong time. alot of little complaints now he hates school he even had a box to get in for quite time with his name on it. I feel this is to much for him and don't know what to do."
"My son is seven and a half years old. Every day I hear that he is not ding school work. His second grade teacher says that he does nothing in class. I tried all I could do to get him straight but now I ran out of options. At home when I am Around He reads, do math all correctly with no trouble. I do not want him to fell second grade. please help........."
"My 5 year old son is having simular problems. How ever he is learning two languages also at the same time and appears to dislike his Arabic teacher. I am native english speaking and my husband is native arabic speaking. He goes to an American International school and loves it. I have no problems about getting him off to school each day. However he is naughty sometimes in class when he does not want to learn to read or write in either language. His teacher tells me he does not understand the way words are forme. My sister says that he has a south african accent as he mixes the way words sound in both english and arabic together. I am at my wits end as his headmaster says that if he does not make progress in the next 6 months he will have to repeat KG2 again instead of going up with his friends. Please does anyone have any advice for me. Kate - Egypt."
"i have a 5 year old who is quite similar to the child above why does my child misbehave in class except he cries an winges a lot at school an wont share or play with the other kids an ive been thinkin the worst possible problems could be wrong with him until i read what you said back to the mum you've made me feel so much better about his prospects but would like some more advice his school have said about him seeing an educational sycologist which i think might help "
"my son is misbehaving in his school and home. He started telling lies and using his teachers signature of his own. And telling that is his teacher sign.Also he hide his martsheet and test papaers so that parents cannot see his mark. i am so worried about my son please help me about this problem."
"Add me to the list here. I have a 6 and half year old boy in first grade. The first nine weeks he was very well behaved but starting in November he started misbehaving. He has hard time following directions and can be silly when he shouldn't be (and he talks to much). His teacher says he's a sweet kid who is helpful and respectful but just needs more direction. I know he's a bit bored (he reads on at least a 5th grade level and he does excellent in math) and doesn't sometimes see the 'point' to what he's asked to do. We stress to him that it doesn't matter whether he sees the point he still needs to do the work. If we get a 'bad' note from his teacher he loses nintendo and/or computer games (which he only plays 30 minutes anyway). It doesn't seem to help a whole lot. He'll have a number of good days and then a few bad days. He has expressed that he doesn't know what to do and that he feels terrible about it. His teacher has not mentioned ADHD or anything, and seems to unders! tand that boys are more squirmy and such. We are going to homeschool him next year with K12 so he can grow out of this in a different environment. I have no doubt he'll grow out of it (like 2 of my nephews) and I don't want him pegged as a troublemaker or to feel like that is who he is. "
"I was relieved when I read your email. I have a 7 year old who acts up at school and home. I came across your letter after looking on the internet, because, once again, he is having issues, and the teacher phoned to talk about it. It can be so frustrating and worrisome. I too, just hope within time these behaviors will change. He doesn't do anything horrible, just seems to get himself into trouble. Some of the trouble is because he is too nice - wants to buy candy for his friends at school, wants to talk during quiet time. Just hang in there. Hope it helps to know there are others out there dealing with the same issue. I know that helps me cope with it all. "
"this has been very helpfull, I Have a 6 year old son and we are excatly getting the same complains fm his school, We have just arraived in USA Fm India, and we also feel that coz he already knows what they are teaching at his level in Schools here he has a lot of time to idle and hence this behavior, It would be very helpfull if u could give yr views on this to. thanks once again"
"I am a mother of two, my son is almost five and i am going through similar problems. I am getting him enrolled in a Montesori School, hoping it will help. Someone told me a music class might be better than KArate, because i was thinking of enrolling him in a karate class too. "
"I am having the same problems with my child as described above. He is very intelligent and he is only 5 years old and can read Dr. Suess books to me, with some assistance. I feel that his teacher does not understand the maturity level of a 5 years. She has sent home notes about the whole class being bad. Should I take him out of this class. His bad behavior is escallating. He has stabbed another child with a pencil two different times now. "
"Thank you for the input from the mom who responded on May 30th. I wish I had a great kindergarten teacher for my daughter like you have had for your son. Instead all we ever get is that my daughter is too young & should not go to 1st grade, instead the transition class. We have had the same type problems you seem to have had. If my daughter gets bored that's probably the biggest problem. She is very smart which her teacher tells us but just not mature enough to go to 1st grade. Anyway, thanks again, best of luck to you too!"
"Thank GOD you said what you said; eventhough school is over, I had a almost daily problem with my son back in K with the same thing (incl. throwing himself in the floor tantrums) and less in 1st--almost 360 degrees. He is a young age every year (June child) and the teacher took this in consideration both years--esp. the K., she was my angel and I will never forget what she did for my family. I need to read about situations like this because it lets me know I'm doing the best I can and boys are/seem more complicated starting out in life. Thank you doc. and concerned parents! EXTRA INFO: Also, concerned parents, I was very fortunate that the K teacher gave my son errands to run and help her when he completed his assignments; he was allowed to read to the principal, and he would go talk to the school counselor every now and again. For 1st grade, he was able to go talk to his K teacher; he went to other 1st grade teachers and talked to them, and they would give him stickers for having terrific days. I tell you if it wasn't for all their support, I don't know what I would have done about school--I even considered medication and now I'm glad I didn't. (The K teacher even advised me not to do this and told me to give him time to mature over the summer and it worked greatly. That's LOVE and compassion; that's a teacher!) This all just takes time and we have to keep pushing; take it from me."
"I am in the same boat as the misbehaving girl haveing an August birthday. My daughter is the youngest. Her teacher says she is too smart in one breath but in the next says she is not mature enough to go to 1st grade. Can anybody relate? Please help!!!!! There are only 19 days of school left, what do I do?"
"Thank you for the question and thank you for the answer. My son constantly receives marks because he talks too much and he does not follow instructions. He has been placed on the gifted and talented track because of his test scores but he behavior is getting in the way academically because of not following instructions. Again, thank you."
"I agree with Dr. Joseph my son went through this phase and rewards work well. The rewards was given by his teacher and my self. Also some of it was verbal appretiation of his efforts every time I saw him improving or trying his best."
"You should make this more widley known. I have a 6 year old in first grade, and is also one of the youngest kids in his class, though he is the biggest. My son's teacher, like many teachers, suggested he had ADD. I told her and his pediatritian (who when I told him what the teacher had said immidiatly pulled out a perscription pad) that it was a load of hoey! How many mothers who don't know any better are medicating their boys?!? My son does his homework fairly well at home, even with the distractions of his younger brother and sister. He is the top of his class when it comes to math, technology and PE. But he is constantly in trouble for blowing bubbles in the bathroom, not being up to speed with the other kids in reading, and the teacher has reacted with putting him alone, in the corner of the classroom, facing away from everyone else. I am enraged and appauled that this is not a basic thing that they teach elementary school teachers. DON'T LET THEM MEDICATE YOUR ! PERFECTLY NORMAL CHILD!!!!!!!!!!"
"giving it 'time' is not a great answer. Yes, it can be a stage, but we are asking for suggestions NOW. I am also a mother of a boy who has a hard time sitting and listening. He wants to play vs. work. It is very difficult to hear from the teacher he was misbehaving again. I've taken snacks away, had early bedtimes, we need more help than 'give it time.' That's why we are asking NOW...."
"It is good to here someone else is experiencing similar issues. My first grader is making straight A's and misbehaving. Is this an entirely different situation?"
"Thank you very much for this information. I have a seven year old son, first grader. His teacher sends me notes on a daily basis and 80% of the notes indicate that he is not following directions. At times I think my son't teacher is a little bit too strict, but I still talk to my son and he tells me he understands how important it is for him to follow directions. We have tried several things, my husband has locked his toys. He brings good notes for a couple of days but goes back to getting bad notes. "
"What if your misbehaving child is a girl? Her birthday is in August, so she is one of the youngest in her class."
"I am almost in tears of relief. I had this conversation with my son's teacher last night. She had suggested I contact my Pediatrition. He does not get many notes home, he is not violent or mean. He just can't always focus. He is a smart and good child but I don't think he need meds. (the feeling I get from his teacher). He is bringing B'c and C's home. We keep trying new things for both boys (they are twins) but nothing sticks with either boy. I am relieved to see it's not just him or them. Thank you!"