HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

Help! My Fifth-Grader Is Immature

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My son is fairly immature for a 10-year-old, both socially and academically. He is forgetful, disorganized and childish, which sometimes gets in the way of schoolwork and friendships.

He's been tested for ADD, but he didn't meet enough of the criteria. He is smart, but impulsive and rather silly. He seems bored in school and uninterested in the common social games played at this age. He is a very caring person, but seems to lack discipline, self-control and social skills. Helping with reading or math is obvious, but how can we help with these issues without squelching his wonderful spirit?


It is wonderful that you recognize both the gift of his spirit and what skills he needs to work on. Many children have ADHD or ADD traits, but don't qualify for special services. Children who are anxious also have many of these same behaviors. You are correct that it is sometimes easier to plan academic strategies than behavioral ones. We are all complex beings and there are many factors that impact how we learn and behave.

If you have not had a meeting with the teacher, administrator and counselor, you may want to ask for one. At that meeting key school personnel and parents discuss the child's strengths and problem areas. The team and parents create a plan that may involve additional academic and possibly psychological testing to better understand the student's needs. Outside resources are recommended, and home and classroom strategies are explored.

Self-control, discipline, organizational and social skills are all learned behaviors. We need to practice them to mature. A social skills group might be a way for your son to learn how to problem solve and behave more appropriately. Check hospitals, counseling centers and managed-care systems in your area. Another alternative is group sports or martial arts classes.

Many of the strategies that are used for ADHD work well for children who are anxious and unfocused. Slowing down and breaking things down into steps helps children stay on task. The simplest behavioral strategies recommended by the NIMH are:

  • Create a schedule and structure
  • Organize everyday items so that they are consistently in the same place
  • Use organizing tools such as sectioned notebooks. (I use accordion files.)

It will be important to begin work on this now, as middle school will have more challenges and stressors.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

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 also does that but his himself all he do it get demerits and its not helping if the teachers anint doing there jobs and he is at lackwwod and the only school that does is Meadowlane Elementry were he is now at "
"My 12-year old daughter is also very immature. I try a ton! But, nothing ever works. She is turning 13 in May and is in 7th grade! What do I do? She is doing great accademicaly (I think I spelled that wrong) but is very childish... I wish she would grow up!! "
"My son has the exact same problems and has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome as well as ADHD. He has an IEP and gets specialized help when needed. He is still mainstreamed in the fifth grade class, but there are accommodations. It's not easy, but he will get the help he needs through his schooling."
"This child may also have high functioning autism. My oldest son was finally diagnosed two ears ago. Now he receives OT and Speech (to help with pargmatic/social speech) at school. Have your child seen by a developmental peditrician for furthur evaluation."