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Ask the Experts

My Son Is Disruptive in Class

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

Over the last two years my 8-year-old son has had a problem with distracting others in class by tapping his pencils, playing with supplies in his desk and basically fidgeting in his seat. My son is older and larger than his classmates. We've had him tested and he does not have AD/HD, however at times he gets very hyperactive and fidgety. He gets excellent grades, is very athletic and is very hands on.

By the end of the school year he ends up sitting off to the side in his desk by himself. Sometimes it seems to me that he can't handle the whole school year, because he seems to be tired, really emotional and gets into trouble by the end of the year.

What can I do to break his habit of being disruptive in the classroom? I've tried a stress ball, but he got in trouble for using it.

Answer:

Your description of your son makes me believe that he may be a kinesthetic learner. Children, who are kinesthetic, learn best through physical involvement. They do well in small group discussions, at live events with hands-on demonstrations, and enjoy field trips. They are more comfortable working in short blocks of time, rather than studying for extended periods. They need frequent breaks. They sometimes have difficulty expressing emotion without using physical gestures or touching the person they're interacting with.

If he is a kinesthetic learner, it would make sense that by the end of the year he is exhausted trying "to hold it together." It would be important to ask his teacher what he understands about learning styles. If the teacher is unfamiliar with how to integrate different learning styles into the classroom, go to the Learning Resource Specialist, Principal, School Psychologist or School Counselor for help on determining if this is the underlying cause of his stress. Once the underlying cause is determined, the teacher can work on how best to structure your son's school day.

Don't abandon the idea of a stress ball, as it is a recommended intervention for children who are either kinesthetic learners, have AD/HD or demonstrate anxiety. What is missing is a better understanding of the nature of his challenges and a thorough plan that helps you, your son, and his teacher, address his needs.

A resource for this learning style: Learning on Their Feet: A Sourcebook for Kinesthetic Learning Across the Curriculum K- 8, by Carol Glynn


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 GreatSchools.org readers

05/2/2011:
"Of course kids are disruptive people they are eating candy and watch TV. Oh please! Maybe they are disruptive because school makes learning BORING? "
10/21/2008:
"Regarding the article about the 8 yr old son who is disruptive in class.. well,I have found that 9 times out of 10, its because the kids are not eating balanced, healthy meals, getting enough sleep AND most importantly, watching too much TV and video games. Many parents I talk to mistake video game addiction to ADD or hyperactivity. My kids are no longer permitted to do any of these during the school week and their grades are now A's and B's, no more classroom disruptions etc. I am no doctor, but let's consider the obvious first before going into this entire discussion on the type of learner the kid is.. basics such as diet, sleep, environment.. good luck."
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