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My Son Is Smart, Slow and Stubborn

By Dr. Joseph Gianesin, Behavioral Consultant


My son is pretty smart and was just accepted into his school's "gifted and talented" program. The problem is he does everything slowly including copying a simple assignment, taking a bath and eating.

He also gets extremely distracted. For example, when he is putting on his socks he might get distracted by a book and stop to read it. He partially listens to what his teacher says in school and then cannot complete his work correctly.

His consequence is to redo his work again and again. I consulted with his pediatrician to find out if he has ADD (attention-deficit disorder), but his evaluation is that "this is his personality - self-centered, rigid and strong-minded."

He can do an excellent job in his own way, but never follows guidelines or requirements. What can I do without struggling with him every day?


The first thing to do is decide the issues that are important enough for you to worry about. If you can prioritize those and let the other ones run their course, you will reduce the amount of struggle and conflict.

I have encountered several children like this and you have to pick your battles carefully. In some instances, operating at a slow speed is a form of resistance and a passive-aggressive response ("You can't make me go any faster").

I respond to this by emphasizing the positive and providing firm, consistent limits and boundaries on the areas I have identified as important.

There are some simple approaches that work for stubborn children. For example, the use of a kitchen timer for the completion of a household task or a school assignment helps the child modulate his time on task. In school the teacher could initially shorten the assignments and set the timer for a certain time limit. If your son responds successfully, then provide a reward for him. The work can be gradually increased as he demonstrates success. In addition, limit the number of directions.

One last bit of caution. Children who have these characteristics often look for chances to engage in an argument. Avoiding an argument or conflict is important, and using redirection techniques can reduce tension. The key for all children is consistency and predictability. Look for the strengths in your child and he will shine for you.

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

"If my son does not understand a homework assignment, it is extremely difficult to help him. He does not appear to listen, he makes noises and Odd motions, can't sit still ....all while I'm trying to work through a problem with him. He rushes though his work that he can do and put minimal care in its completion. It is so frustrating, it always ends up in me getting very angry and I think it affects his self esteem. He is in third grade and does ok, but we feel he could do better, but is distracted, unfocused, basically annoying because I just want to be able o go over it with him and help him. "
"My daughter must be the long lost sister of 12/5/2008. It seems like the common factor is these kids are highly intelligent. Someone once told me that they believed my daughter moves so slowly because her mind is in a constant state of movement and that her body can not keep up with it. It doesn't matter if she is going to the dentist or Disney World, she moves at the same speed. She is almost 13 and it is not getting any better maybe even worse. It is causing problems at school and I am a loss as what to do. "
"There is a great app for iPhones available called Quick Kids, it helps children to complete any task within a particular time. Parents can set the countdown timer with the required amount of minutes, the child then presses the start button and can see and hear the timer counting down. They are challenged to beat the clock and press the stop button before the timer counts down to zero. If they do this a star is added to a reward chart. It is available from itunes - "
"dr.gianesin is wrong. the kid most likley has OCD and has 'lucky numbers' he will most likley be doing things many times or even repeating phrases mentally. He probably erases a lot. look at his schoolwork."
"This describes our 8 year son very well. We got him a cool watch with a stop watch and let him time the things he was doing. Any improvement in his time became something to praise him for. If we kept track of it, he liked it even more. It appealed the the natural Olympian in him I think."
"This describes my son to a T. I still have issues with him but it has gotten a little better. One problem I had was getting to school on time; so I allowed him to get up early enough to play Wii for 30 minutes and then he'd have to shower and eat and out to school. That actually helped. I also don't allow video game playing just because. They have to earn that. That also helps me get some cooperation. Because they are selfish, stubborn and bright you have to give them something you know they want."
"He may also exhibit 'feelings of entitlement',believe that rules that apply to others don't apply to him and he may get away with a lot because he still will turn in outstanding work despite being late, turning in assignments late, etc. I think that its important for him to realize early that he must obey rules like everyone else, and that there are real consequences when he doesn't. If he has good social skills along with his gifted status, he may very well 'get over' on his teachers. It may be up to you as his parent(s) to set the consequences. Your description of your son's behavior is very familiar to me; and, the fact that you have recognized and sought out help, will help in years to come. Good Luck! Agree with the 'passive aggressive' characterization of the 'slow/ forgetful' behavior. Kudos to the parent and Dr. Gianesin for this important question and the thoughtful answer, respectively!"
"this answer really helped me and i hope that i will help my son by directing him on right path."
"Help! Hey '12/5/2008 User'!! Did it get better? how? I have the same child. I'm at the end of my rope."
"My son does exactly what is mentioned above. I do not know what to do, I have tried everything except the timer. He is slow at completing homework, but completes them and I check them every night. In class he does not finish his classwork, which might cause him to get left back. "
"Thank you, I needed this information."
"I can not believe there are other children like my daughter out there. Our daughter is 11, an ONLY CHILD, and attends a Gifted School. She takes 45-60 minutes to use the bathroom, 45-70 minutes to take a shower. Homework takes her 4-7 hours a night and the school says should only take her 2 hours. It breaks my heart to see her do homework for so many hours. She does not seem to be bothered by it at all. I have had her tested for ADD/ADHD and each time the Doctors say she is not either. In school she must go to the library to finish tests, or finish them during lunch. This behavior began at a very young age. When picking out a toy at a store even as a 3 year old child it could be a painstakingly 2 hours or more if we allowed it. She scrutinized each piece and could not make up her mind. I have to remind her to brush her teeth, wash her face every single night. If she spends the night at a friends non of this occurs by her own admission. One thing she is is brutally honest abo! ut everything. She is very argumentative about almost everything with me and her dad. Her dad and I could say it is green and she will go down fighting that it is blue. "
"I have the same kind of son. I call him a turtle cause he is so SLOW! Eating, talking, taking a shower, putting his shoes on, homework, walking just everything. He's 6 and in the 1st grade and he's so smart. I have another son who is nothing like him. His teacher has tried may different ways to get him moving in class, from giving him more time and rewards to having to have him sit out of things for a punishment, but nothing works. It's gotten to the point were we have no idea how to get him to get things done. He is always the one with homework and first to stare off and not finish in class. Is this a boy thing or is something wrong with him? PLEASE HELP ME! I'm very worried that this will affect his school for the future."
"My son is exactly what is being discussed in this issue. I want to know the do's and don'ts in dealing his kind. Thanks"
"this information was great. I have struggle with my son for some time now and I was thinking that he too had add or adhd I had him tested and he is fine; but he is slow and whats to do things his way and we will fight until i gave up. "
"I am so happy to know there are other people dealing with the same issues. My daughter is in the gifted and talented classes. She's 10 years old and in fifth grade. I tell her she can go play outside after she gets her homework done (which the school says should take 1 hour). There has been 'maybe' one day that she was able to play after homework. From homework to showers to eating - it takes forever. When I try to use a timer - she throws a fit. I want her to learn about time management through real life consequences (like not playing outside, going to bed right after her shower because she took too long, and eating cold food). None of this seems to bother her. UGH! I've been told that it is a phase and will soon pass (I've been dealing with this since she was in 3rd grade). I'm worried about high school, college, and the real world. "
"My son is the same, so smart, he can work and do quality work when he wants, but takes for ever to finish anything, take a shower, even answer a simple question he takes his time, we tried the timer, but he still needs more motivation, sometimes it is so sad seen him getting worse grades every time because time is never enough for him. He is in seven grade now, and we do no wht else to do other than be with him, I mean really in front of him watching him working and taking his attention back every 5 minutes or less."
"I have a similar situation with my 10 year old son, who is in fifth grade. He is extremely smart and often argumental - I find that if I make time for him to talk about the things he enjoys, I can then engage him in talking about things he normally doesn’t want to listen to. As the older brother of a 4 and 5 year old, I am constantly reminding him about the importance of leading by example and that sort of keeps him on track for some time. He needs constant personal and school reminders, so I try to put notes and make lists for him everywhere around the house – just need to stay on top of it, so that he is consistent too. One thing I noticed with my son's 4th. grade teacher last year and how she got him to engage in class, was by praising him with big words - tons of encouragement!! I too have conversations with him about the fact that he is special in his own unique way – he processes his thoughts in a much faster way than most people do and when he puts his mind in to something he is GrEAT at it!!"
"I agree with what you discuss in this article. My son has been vaery arguementive. I have been trying to ignore him or give him the silent treatment. I will try redirection Ms Reid Bronx, NY"
"I have a sixth grader, she's in a gifted math and science class. We have to remind her of everything she has to do, like don't forget to brush your teeth, wash your face, take a shower. do your homework. I noticed that if we don't remind her she'll forget those things. We're trying to teach her how to be independent but she relies on us to much, like doing her homework, she wants us to be part of it, a simple vocabulary if she doesn't know the meaning she'll ask us, we told her over and over that if she doesn't know the meaning we have big dictionary, but she's very lazy. And she needs help focusing and paying attention to details. I can go on and on. By the way she's the only child. If you can give advice to help my daughter I'll appreciate it so much."