John W. Maag, Ph.D. is a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, specializing in the education and treatment of children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral disorders. He is a licensed psychotherapist and has published more than 80 articles and book chapters. Among four books he’s authored, Parenting without Punishment won a Parent’s Choice award.

This conversation between Dr. Maag and parents of children with learning difficulties about how to deal with kids’ problem behavior related to homework, perfectionism, television viewing, and other topics, originally took place in 2006 on the parent message board hosted by Schwab Learning, a former program of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. We feel readers will find much that is useful and important for their own efforts to support their children.

Homework hassles

From: 2KIDS

My daughter is 10 and has dyslexia. All she wants to do is play with friends when she gets home. For us what works best is she comes home does HW and then goes out. I know she struggles every day she goes to school more so than the avg kid because of her LD and I do realize she needs to play for her well being. I find myself getting frustrated at times since all we do is study. How should we be balancing the home and school to be fair to all?

Dr. Maag responds:

It is very difficult to “balance” homework and leisure — we don’t want either one to take up a child’s entire day. I think your plan of saying homework comes before play is great. I also like the “breaking it up” into smaller more manageable chunks. In terms of your daughter rushing though, you can give a little extra incentive for taking her time. For example, you could tell her that after finishing her homework she can go out and play for an hour…

A child who won’t keep up with his schedule

From: Beth64

My 14YO son who is deaf & has ADD with ODD tendencies continues to move on his own schedule. Each morning I wake him up and he takes forever to get ready for school, many times causing the bus to wait for him for 5 min. I have been tempted to allow him to “miss” the bus but it is very important that he go to school. What do I do to get him to respect the time schedule we must keep in order to not miss the bus? He also does the same sort of delaying tactics when we have appointments and other time schedules…

Dr. Maag responds:

Getting children ready for school can be a daunting task. Child experts provide two main solutions to that problem. First, place your child on the bus regardless of where he’s at in the “getting ready” process. That means he may go to school in his pajamas. Of course, using this technique requires parents to inform the school and for them to give the “okay” to this type of plan. The other approach is one that I favor which is to use a “star chart” and kitchen timer to motivate your son to get ready in timely fashion…

Controlling a teen’s television and computer time

From: Arlington

How much should parents of older teenagers control television and computer access? My son argues that he should be making that decision. My concern is that he almost always chooses to watch television, be on the computer, etc. over homework and other activities. Although he generally does eventually get his work done, because he is ADHD he often underestimates how long it will take and there ends up being a lot of stress. He’ll also often stay up late at night watching television or IMing his friends and then has a hard time getting up and to school on time…

Dr. Maag responds:

Your son should be able to decide how much television and computer access he has under one condition: They do not interfere with his school/home work, home chores, and/or job performance. From your post, it sounds like your son can perform these tasks, but perhaps not in as timely a manner nor as high quality as you would like or he is capable of doing. Okay, so your son wants to make decisions like an adult. Good, then treat him like an adult…

Anxious, perfectionist child seen as “not working” by the teacher

From: schaefme

I’m having some issues with my first grader, who has started a new public school this year after being in Montessori for the last five years. The problem is seen as ‘lack of effort’ by his teacher. What I have observed about my son is that he has some anxiety, perfectionism, and low tolerance for frustration. He wants so badly to be able to do things, and to do them well, right off the bat. When I try and work with him he says “don’t help me!” even though he does need help.

The teacher is trying to handle this without involving us. I’m uncomfortable that we’re not more involved with what is going on at school.

Since we never had this “lack of effort” complaint at his other school, I’m wondering what the issue might be and how we can help…

Dr. Maag responds:

I understand your concern. It is a common one parents experience with schools. I would also recommend you get a copy of the “Tough Kid Book.” It is a great reference for teachers AND the approaches are positive rather than punitive. If your schedule permits, I would highly recommend you spend time in your son’s classroom. Be a presence at your son’s school. Require his teacher to send weekly home notes to you that focus on one good thing he did each day of the week…

A child’s somatic (physical illness) complaints linked to school

From: lbaugie

My daughter is 9, ADHD-in (medicated), and dyslexic in her second year (4th grade) at a LD school. She has had major transitional issues with the start of school this year (never before to this extent). She has numerous somatic complaints to 1) avoid going to school and 2) avoid working at school when she is there.

The good news is that her teacher and I are meeting to brainstorm how to get through this. Could you provide ideas for a behavioral plan and some strategies for implementing incentives for good behavior rather than punishing bad and the school to home connection?

Dr. Maag responds:

There are so many things the teacher can do to help your daughter. First, instead of only having ‘consequences’ for not completing assignments, the teacher should have a reinforcement program for completing assignments and staying on task. I highly recommend the teacher purchase the “Tough Kid Book.” Second, the teacher should be using self-monitoring with your daughter. Self-monitoring techniques are easy to implement and extremely effective, especially for students with learning disabilities…

A compliant child who becomes oppositional and argumentative

From: JWmom

My son is 10 years old and is in the 5th grade, has ADHD, anxiety, and dysgraphia and is gifted. He has always been a very compliant child and eager to please (once you get his attention!), but has recently become oppositional and argumentative with us at home and with his teacher at school. I am wondering if this is just normal pre-puberty behavior, or a side effect of medication (he takes Adderall XR and Paxil CR), or if it is related to problems he is having with bullies at school. I don’t know if it matters what is causing it, but it seems like it will help us understand the best way to handle it. What is the best way to handle the arguments?

Dr. Maag responds:

I am not a child psychiatrist and, therefore, am hesitant to comment on the effects/side effects of medication on your son’s behavior. However, I definitely would make an appointment, if you haven’t already done so, and explain the behavior to the physician to see if any of the behaviors are medication related. I think your son may be a little young for the prepubescent behavior, but children do mature at different rates. The school should absolutely be dealing with the bullying and making your son feel safe…