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Parents of ADHD Children

Poor behavior at school, but good at home


My son is in 4th grade and is pretty good at home. He fights with his sister a bit, but not more than any other child.  I sometimes have to ask him to do things a few times, but really, he’s quite pleasant at home.  School is another story - he is a terror.  He’s refused to follow directions, cries when he doesn’t get his way, throws things around the classroom, rips things up and picks on other children. He plays competitive basketball and does very well on that team (it’s a travel team) and goes to church and Sunday school and does well there.  I don’t understand why school is so hard for him.  Has anyone else had a child like this?  He has ADHD and is medicated. It’s just school is very difficult.  Any ideas?  And if you had a child like this, how did you handle this?


Is it possible he knows there are no repercussions at school that matter to him? My son has pushed every teacher since preschool to see how much he could get away with - tears, fits, refusals, etc. The schools usually have very few resources for punishing unacceptable behavior other than taking recess away which I’ve always requested they don’t take. I know most people don’t propose punishments at home for things that happen at school hours earlier but for my son he needed to understand that I knew what he was doing at school, that it wasn’t ok, and that he’d lose priveledges at home if he didn’t correct the behavior. We used a chart that the teacher would send home daily until the issues resolved. The other possibility is there are triggers that make him anxious or upset that he doesn’t have to deal with at home.

Posted by brlk13 on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:36am

I would veer toward the latter explanation.  We’ve found with our son that there were always predictable triggers - someone messing with his toys, etc.- and often underlying educational reasons for resistance.  For instance, he doesn’t like to do narrative writing so we would see his behavior escalate to distract from his perceived inability or he’d just refuse to do the task, which previous teachers (until this year) always escalated by considering it “defiance” instead of considering that there might be underlying reasons for the defiance.  Before skipping to a behavior chart, which can be effective, I’d first explore the circumstances and perhaps request a Functional Behavioral Analysis, which can pinpoint trouble areas and provide context and solutions.  The home reward or consequence for in-school behavior can be effective, but it can also fray your relationship with your son if you don’t get to an underlying cause and simply begin punishing him at home for a school context that isn’t serving his needs.

Posted by cynyoung on Apr 10, 2017 at 3:32pm

You hit the nail on the head: “School is very difficult.”

Imagine if you were in an environment for 7 hours a day 5 days a week that truly felt like an assault to the senses and confidence. Imagine that you had absolutely no say in what that environment was like for you or if you had to be there or not. Imagine if you were asked to do things that were really hard for you all day long in that environment that had you on edge. Imagine if people were telling you that you were just being lazy or you could do what they asked if you wanted to all day, 5 days a week.

That’s what school feels like for a lot of kids with ADHD, especially if they have co-existing conditions like learning disabilities, sensory sensitivities, anxiety, etc.

Ross Greene says, “Kids do well when they can.” So, what is it about school that’s preventing him from doing well, and how can he be helped and accommodated so that he can succeed?

ADDconnect Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

Posted by adhdmomma on Apr 10, 2017 at 3:47pm

Thank you for your replies.  I’m thinking he needs a smaller school that can meet his needs.  He’s very anxious and just can’t deal.  They had to restrain him today and it’s only Monday.

Posted by Sporty on Apr 10, 2017 at 4:06pm

There are so many potential culprits.

1. A teacher’s or classroom style that is a bad match.

2. Academic frustration. The distance between a child’s intelligence and ability to show it in the school
environment is a near perfect measure of frustration.

3. Peer issues.

Posted by Dr. Eric on Apr 10, 2017 at 5:01pm

My son had the same issue in early elementary.  His was mostly caused by academic frustration and what the doctor called “transition disorder with anxiety”.  His counselor also said that all kids crave attention - and for some kids negative attention is better than no attention.  The Functional Behavior Assessment really helped pinpoint the triggers. 

The negative behaviors would spike if ANY changes were made to his school day.  And during times when they would be going over subject matter that he found particularly difficult (i.e. reading). 

Therapy helped him find ways to develop coping skills for the anxiety.  A strong IEP with BIP helped with the behavior interventions at school and the academics.  He was also transferred to a class whose teacher was VERY structure and never deviated from her routine. 

It took awhile, he still has some episodes - but they are few and far between and the trigger is easily identified.  The Functional Behavior Assessment was extremely helpful.

Posted by Pump2Duncan on Apr 10, 2017 at 7:53pm

Thank you.  He just got home and I got another call from the school that he hit a child when walking to the bus.

Posted by Sporty on Apr 10, 2017 at 8:05pm

I’m sorry Sporty!  If you son is on an IEP, you might see if Special Needs Bus Transportation is available if the bus is a difficulty.  It was for my kid who has a hard time with peers and consistently forgot what bus stop was his because of the noise level on the bus. 

We amended the IEP to include transportation services so that my son could get picked up and dropped off right in front of our home by the special needs bus.  The bus environment and driver would incredibly more accommodating and suited to my son then the regular bus.

Posted by Pump2Duncan on Apr 10, 2017 at 8:13pm

I have just read through your post and trust me I feel you. The mainstream schools are very insensitive to kids with special needs. My boy has been through it all. He is fine at home but I get calls everyday from school to come and pick him up. The school has been very insensitive to the triggers that arouse his anger and frustration all because he is the one with special needs so everything is his fault. Every other child is right but my son. When I ask my son, he tells me there’s a girl that constantly picks on him in class (more like bullying him). She always makes fun of him and when my son lashes back in anger, then it’s his fault. I reported to the head teacher but nothing was done about it. All she told me was that they were an inclusive school. When I did my own little investigation like asking the other kids in his class casually, they all confirmed everything my son told me. The headteacher of the school has been very mean to my son giving him exclusions. On one accasion she asked me to pick him up, she literally shoosed us out of the building.
I plan to take her up on her actions after I find a more suitable school for my son. But it is very disappointing that in this day and age, such a person would be allowed to hold a public office.

Posted by Ruby47 on Apr 13, 2017 at 12:57am

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