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Ask the Experts

How Do I Help My Child With Common Sense?

By Dr. Susan Goldman, Family Psychologist

Question:

My third-grade son is very intelligent - excels at all his subjects and catches on very quickly, but his common sense needs to be improved. For instance, he will walk by something that he is looking for five times and says he can't find it, even if it's where it's supposed to be. When riding his bike, instead of using his pedals or the hand brake to slow down or stop, he drags his feet and wears holes in his shoes.

Also, no matter how hard I try, I have a hard time getting him to look at the person he's talking to. I tell him that it's important to look at someone when talking to them because it shows respect and a lot of character. It also lets the person know that you're interested in talking to him instead of it being more like something you have to do.

Answer:

It sounds like your very bright son's "lack of common sense" might actually be an indication that he is distracted by competing thoughts. Perhaps while trying to locate his sneakers he's also thinking about his math homework or a favorite TV program. Now the sneakers are both out of sight and out of mind. You can help him put the brakes on distracting thoughts by encouraging him to focus on one goal at a time.

As an example, the first goal is to find what he's looking for, the second goal is to sit down and outline his homework, etc. He can write down what he needs to accomplish or even audibly remind himself of what the next step is by saying it out loud. These are two sensible approaches to more organized thinking. If you can get him to try these strategies once or twice a day, it would be a big step forward.

Making eye contact is often uncomfortable for children, especially when speaking with an adult or anyone who is unfamiliar. A worthwhile in-between goal is to practice making eye contact when initially greeting someone. You can practice greeting behaviors at home as part of a family routine. When greeting someone you: 1) make eye contact 2) smile 3) say his name. Commend your son each time he makes eye contact and says "Hi mom" when he gets home from school. Now if only he could find those sneakers!


Susan Goldman is a New York City and Westchester, NY-based child and family psychologist in private practice. She is also on staff at Social Bridges, a social skills program for children and adolescents located in Florida and New York.

 

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

01/4/2012:
"Give her a flashlight and send her out back to look for common sense. She'll soon find it. :) "
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