The school recently held one of its regular parents' meeting, the first after our 8 year old daughter started her new class with a new teacher. She dislikes this teacher, complaining she is overly strict.

The feedback we go is that while our daughter is very clever, she does not pay attention, and is prone to minor misbehaviour. This is beyond the standard "bright kids get bored in class". She does it at home, for one thing. And the teacher gave other examples, such as daughter sitting reading a book when the rest of the class had been called to attention. She is very unaware of her surroundings, often lost in her own world.

he knows what the "right" thing to do is, and I suspect the root cause is essentially being unable to delay gratification. It's more fun to read a book than listen to the teacher. It's so tempting to whisper with your friends rather than paying attention. It's great to go whereever you want in your head rather than pay attention to the here and now.

I know this is very common in children, and it's something they learn as they grow up. But the teacher seemed very certain she expected better at this age. I was very much like this as a child myself. But my parents were never able to successfully teach me how to be more focussed, better at delaying short term gain for longer term rewards.

I'm still not very good at it now, and I often wish I could have learned more about how to do it as a child. But I'm not sure what my parents could have done differently, or what I could do as a parent myself. Lectures and positive reinforcement have had only minimal effect. What else can we do?

I found this question on the subject: In what ways can you help a child develop self-control and delayed or deferred gratification? But it's for a younger child. We're beyond that stage now.

  • Have you talked to her about this? What did she say when you did?
    – Joe
    Oct 16, 2014 at 15:21
  • @Joe yes, but talking about it doesn't achieve much. She understands why it's important, and why her behavior is the wrong choice, but she can't seem to stop herself in the heat of the moment. It's classic impulse control stuff, I guess. Don't know what you can do about it.
    – Bob Tway
    Oct 16, 2014 at 15:33
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    Maybe she can learn this through a hobby, it is unlikely for example that you can get good at piano or sports instantly but if you enjoy it and continue you will learn that efforts get rewarded eventually ? Consider team sports as it will teach her also to interact with others.
    – BlueTrin
    Oct 16, 2014 at 15:40
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    Sounds like me when I was a kid. For me, it had a huge part to do with I do not learn by having people explain to me verbally by lecture and not by two way conversation or reading or doing, and I get attention fatigued very quickly by listening to one sided lectures, much more than doing other tasks. Perhaps if you encouraged her to do things to augment the lecture. Like make it a "game" to think of questions and ask them during class. Or open up the text book and try to find the sections the teacher is talking about.
    – user9164
    Oct 16, 2014 at 16:10
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    Do you have an option for another type of schooling? I am thinking of something more Montessori style, where the kid picks what they are interested in, rather than traditional classroom instruction.
    – Ida
    Oct 17, 2014 at 17:50

3 Answers 3


I found this to be a very good general rule:

Do not simply try to stop your child from behaving in a way you disapprove of, but ask (yourself) why she behaves the way she does.

Once you have found the cause for the behavior you want to suppress, the way to change the behavior often becomes obvious. (More often than never you'll find out that you will have to change, BTW.)

Possible causes here are either physical or psychological. Have you had her tested for ADD/ADHD or similar things? If I were you, I'd try to get a definite answer on this one, first. This can be inherited, so if you were similar, there's a chance this is the problem. (Were you checked for this when you were a child?)

If it is not something physical, then maybe a psychotherapist specialized on children could help you to get at the reasons?

  • I was checked for this as a child. I checked a lot of the boxes, but not quite enough for an "official" diagnosis. My daughter is, I think, a bit less this way than me, so it's pretty unlikely she would meet the criteria. It's helpful advice though.
    – Bob Tway
    Oct 17, 2014 at 14:11
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    +1 for the ADD evaluation recommendation. Standards and methods have probably had 20-something years of refinement since you were tested, plus the daydreaming and hyperfocusing is a sign more often seen in girls with ADD than in boys.
    – Aravis
    Oct 17, 2014 at 15:48
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    @MattThrower Even if you don't get an "official" diagnosis (e.g. one you take to the school and pediatrician for lesson plan or medication intervention), knowing there are some signs can help you as a parent come up with strategies. The NIMH's "Living With" section of their ADHD page has some tips I find useful for both my ADHD child and my neurotypical children.
    – Acire
    Oct 24, 2014 at 16:47

I don't feel like what you've described so far is misbehavior. She's actively engaging in her own learning. However, in my experience, many teachers are bothered when they don't have perfectly obedient, controllable little students. Have you sussed out whether or not these incidents are actually impeding her academic process? Or are they perhaps just irksome for the instructors because they prefer more compliant children? Is it because her behavior is more obvious to the teacher than some other children's method's of not paying attention?

I'd say she's displaying a attention span that's just fine (by being able to focus on a book for a long period of time). Some children despise reading, or simply won't do it in long increments. She's able to keep reading, despite the fact that she's no longer required to be reading. So I'm not sure she has an attention problem at all.

However, she likely has an interest problem. Teachers talking/explaining things can be dreadfully boring. If a student is put in a position of passive learning (such as lectures), then their attention is going to wane regardless of age. Just because a student is upright, eyes front, and books down doesn't mean they're actually paying more attention to the teacher than the child reading a book. The only difference is one student is zoning out in a way that's hard to judge, and the other is visibly not tuning in the the teacher. The latter is usually more upsetting for the instructor than the former, despite the fact that they functionally have the same result.

I bring this up, because teaching your daughter not to engage in side-activities (like reading, or doodling) may just lead to her zoning out in a way that doesn't draw the teacher's ire, but also doesn't have your daughter paying any more attention to the class. If material is boring/uninteresting/going on too long then sometimes you just can't help zone out. It's how our brains work.

Thus, I'm not sure your daughter has an issue delaying gratification either. Yes, she may be engaging in more interesting activities, but there's nothing to say this is because of poor impulse control. Can she wait until after dinner to get dessert? Can she wait to get home to open a new toy? Can she accomplish a task for some sort of reward? If you can answer yes to these questions, it's not really a gratification problem.

However, I think there may be an actual answer to your question (even though I'm not convinced your daughter has issues):

The teacher needs to structure a more engaging learning environment, with more opportunities for active learning, for the children to let out some of their energy, and to allow for the differences of willful/independent children (which are positive attributes, although some teachers will tell you otherwise).

You can do as much training as you'd like at home, but you're not likely going to be able to replicate the environment of a school classroom. Since you also can't be present when these situations occur, it really ends up being the teacher's responsibility to handle.

Fear not! It's not completely out of your hands. You can certainly offer some suggestions to the teacher to help them guide your child to a state of optimal learning.

Here are some ideas that may help:






Otherwise, I feel that what you can do about your daughter's delayed gratification has already been answered best by Christine Gordon in the question you linked: https://parenting.stackexchange.com/a/6356/11394

She mentions that you should work on developing your daughter's ability to be intrinsically motivated by different activities, and offers some suggestions on how to do it.

This solution won't necessarily improve her classroom performance (especially if the issue is the classroom). Nevertheless, teaching a child to be satisfied by intrinsic motivation will help her be more successful with studying, homework, chores, self-learning, and work (when she's old enough).

A great book on how to encourage intrinsic motivation, and the drawbacks of extrinsic motivation, is "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" by Daniel H. Pink.


She needs to be disciplined ASAP. Explain to her clearly that if teacher calls her then she needs to go immediately and cant sit reading book or do what she wants. It is a school, not her home that she can do whatever she wants.

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    This doesn't really add anything to the question. He's asking how to accomplish this in an effective fashion (and has made it clear that she knows she shouldn't be doing this).
    – Joe
    Oct 16, 2014 at 16:52
  • Hi Joe.Thats what I tried to say " how to do this" All he needs to do is explain that she needs to OBEY her elders and teacher. And just cant do whatever she feels like. I am sure he wants his girl to grow up into a kind ; elegant lady and not a disobedient Brat.
    – Tiffany
    Oct 16, 2014 at 17:13
  • You're really telling him at a high level, when he's asking for the low level. If this is your advice, explain how to do this such that it actually has an effect. In comments, he clarified that she knows she shouldn't do this, but loses self-control. How do you tailor that discussion to help her find it, and to remember to behave at these times? Let's say she knows that she should, but she doesn't know how to do that in practice. What strategies can they discuss?
    – Joe
    Oct 16, 2014 at 17:40
  • I didnt.understand :( What do u mean by ". How to do it" Just need to be FIRM and tell the child You need to OBEY and BEHAVE. If u dont, then no more toys for u and also Time outs. So Simple. Isnt it?
    – Tiffany
    Oct 16, 2014 at 18:10
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    I don't think it's that simple, no. Even within that statement, how do you do time outs? How long do you take away toys for? There are a lot of details you're skipping over that are important; but further, the problem isn't that the child doesn't want to cooperate: it's that she doesn't know how. If you still think punishment-centric discipline is the right way to teach that skill, you should explain that in your answer.
    – Joe
    Oct 16, 2014 at 18:50

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