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.
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.