Q: I'm a single parent of two -- a quiet, calm 15-year-old daughter who possesses much common sense, and a 12-year-old son who was born running.
He has finished the sixth grade in a small, strict, private Catholic school. He received demerits weekly and felt stifled and frustrated.
Although he was a solid "B" student, I had to meet with the teachers and principal several times about his behavior. They said he couldn't sit still; wanted to visit the bathroom constantly; fidgeted; acted impulsively and spoke out of turn.
I had him screened for ADHD [attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder] until his seventh grade teachers give me their opinions of him and an educational clinical psychologist tests his IQ and his emotional intelligence and looks for learning disabilities.
Our pediatrician says we must consider the surges of testosterone my son is handling now, as well as the school and the depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder that afflicts his father.
Their dad's involvement is minimal. He takes them shopping and to occasional sporting events, but he comes from an undemonstrative family. He loves the children, but they don't "click."
What should I do?
A: Listen to your pediatrician. His advice is first-rate.
ADHD is a possibility, but don't bet on it.
First of all, your son is a boy and an active one, which means his teachers should relax a little and laugh a lot. Demerits don't work very well for these guys, especially when they're given so freely.
Your son is also 12, a time when sudden physical and mental growth can make children clumsy and bump into things, cause great bouts of energy and lassitude in and out of class, and require them to play hard at recess to get the oxygen they need to study. Even then they can just sit still for a half-hour and only if the teacher is interesting and treats them with respect. If not, they'll act out and sometimes act awful.
Do some volunteer work at school so you can find out if the seventh grade teachers are more familiar with child development. Do they let the students work together on projects? Do they give them some time for independent study every day? Do they let them move quietly around the classroom while they work? Do they treat their students like intelligent, caring human beings?
You also need to know if they teach to every learning style, for some children learn best by seeing, some by hearing, some by moving around as they work, and all of them learn by doing. Hands-on activities are essential, especially at 12.
Finally, find out whether these teachers are aware that each child has his own individual temperament. This is critical. If a child is allowed to be himself, and is appreciated for being himself, he will obey the rules much better.
To understand the 16 personality types, read "I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just Not You" (Davies-Black, $16.95), by Roger R. Pearman and Sarah C. Albritton, and "The Developing Child" (Consulting Psychologist, $13.95), by Elizabeth Murphy, both based on the work of Carl Jung. If you want the teachers to deal with your son better, give the school "Effective Teaching, Effective Learning" (Davies-Black, $18.95), by Alice M. Fairhurst and Lisa L. Fairhurst. It might help.
If you don't think they can ever be more understanding, however, find a different school for your son. It would be better to pull him out at mid-term than make him endure a whole year. School should never feel like jail.
Questions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.