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My 10 year old nephew is getting everyone worried with his behavior. He does not perform well at school, he is not respectful, and he often talks back to people who try to correct him. His mother is always crying about this because she has tried hard to reason with him to the extent of beating him thinking things will change all to no avail.

He often lies about his homework. Most often he says he has not been given homework and you later realize it is a lie. His school performance is terrible. Sometimes he does well in some subjects, but at times he fails terribly in these same subjects. Sometimes according to his teachers he does not even finish on going class test and he leaves the examination room to the playing ground; several times he has to be called back to finish his test.

He loves playing a lot, so several times we tried restricting him from watching TV and playing. This has not brought any substantial change. He actually is an intelligent boy and is always smart in trying to cover up things. These behaviors (not performing well at school, disrespecting his elders, and being lazy) is damaging his parents' relationship.

I would be very grateful if you could help me find a solution to this. Thank you.

  • May I ask, do you live in the same city as your nephew? Have the parents sought guidance from any professional (doctor, therapist, school principal, etc.)? If so, what was the recommendation, and did it help at all? Thank you. – anongoodnurse Oct 24 '14 at 14:36
  • Why isn't he responsible? Why isn't he interested in school? Why is he disregarding elders? – sbi Oct 24 '14 at 17:02
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There are a lot of things going on that may or may not be related. However, many of the symptoms you describe are familiar to me -- my son behaves in the same way very frequently. In our case, he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

I want to be clear that I'm not a medical professional, and you've only provided a snapshot of your nephew's life. Don't consider my advice a diagnosis, because it could be wrong or there could be other problems... but it may give you a starting point to work with.

The US National Institute of Mental Health describes the symptoms of ADHD on its website. (I'm including below only the ones that are strongly related to behaviors that you mentioned.)

Children who have symptoms of inattention may:

  • Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
  • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing something enjoyable
  • Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities

Children who have symptoms of hyperactivity may:

  • Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time

Children who have symptoms of impulsivity may:

  • Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences

And while lying about whether he has homework may sound like it's not on the list, I'd wager that he simply finds it easier to make up stories than to do the assignment.

Essentially, he finds it very difficult to pay attention and control his behavior. This can be just as frustrating for a child to deal with -- because he would like to behave but gets so easily distracted that he can't remember to behave -- as it is for parents and teachers who are continually reminding, punishing, and redirecting!

The NIMH also includes Tips to Help Kids Stay Organized and Follow Directions.

Schedule. Keep the same routine every day, from wake-up time to bedtime. Include time for homework, outdoor play, and indoor activities. Keep the schedule on the refrigerator or on a bulletin board in the kitchen. Write changes on the schedule as far in advance as possible.

Organize everyday items. Have a place for everything, and keep everything in its place. This includes clothing, backpacks, and toys.

Use homework and notebook organizers. Use organizers for school material and supplies. Stress to your child the importance of writing down assignments and bringing home the necessary books.

Be clear and consistent. Children with ADHD need consistent rules they can understand and follow.

Give praise or rewards when rules are followed. Children with ADHD often receive and expect criticism. Look for good behavior, and praise it.

These are strategies which could be useful whether or not your nephew has ADHD or a similar attention problem. Organization, structure, and clear rules are helpful ideas.

Specific to the homework problem, I suggest asking the teacher to send home a note if there is no assignment -- that way your nephew has to show what he brought home every day and it is either homework (which he then must do) or a signed note saying he has none (in which case he's free to play). Without a way to check that he's lying, he'll continue to do it. He gets to play instead of doing a dull assignment, and he isn't thinking about the consequences of not turning in the homework, or of failing school, or anything else -- just about playing!

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I'd check in this order:

  1. Is there something that troubles him? Sometimes seemingly minor things can get a child very confused and helpless. Some children have surprisingly fine antennas for undercurrents. Think alonge the lines of family / parental relationship, jealousy, bullying at school, recent changes in his life... True, this is a large field, but worth some research. Especially if the behaviour is comparatively "new".
  2. Also if the behaviour is "newish": He might have started puberty. The talking back and distractedness might be a hint. Remember: during puberty the brain remodels itself and there can be a phase where a child is really unable to function as expected - and realizes this.
  3. If he's "always" been like this: Have him checked for ADHD, Erica has given an excellent answer on this point. (But keep the next paragraph in mind.)
  4. Have his IQ and learning abilities checked. Often gifted children are misdiagnosed for ADHD. It requires some experience to distinguish between 3. and 4., especially if the child is older and rather "rebellious". There are "varieties" of gifted children, some who are very, very meticulous and precise, some are jumpy and have difficulties focusing because their brain follows so many ideas at the same time. This results in deep inner conflict as the child knows he should easily be able to do sth. but simply can't focus. Same goes for learning disorders. Skipping homework is something gifted children tend to do, too - why repeat what's been understood?
  5. Check the amount of TV/Computer time and the amount of sugar or food colorings etc. in his diet. Some children are more sensitive to this than others. (My son, (8) literally starts twitching if he's had too much sugar or more than 45 min of TV, my daughter (5) simply walks away from TV if she's not interested any more.) Don't restrict as punishment, offer alternatives instead.
  6. Have a thorough check-up at a pediatrician: For example: The thyroid can wreak havoc on a child's behaviour. Allergies can cause weird effects, too. You might even have the hormone levels checked (see 2.).

Please get this child some help. At 10, he needs love, attention, guidance and support. Also, let him play, preferably outdoors, this is a valuable outlet for pent-up energy, reduces adrenaline and other stress-hormones and helps coping with whatever troubles him. Watching him (not openly, just "happening to be there"), you might even get some insights...

Work with a good, experienced pediatrician or psychiatrist, talk to his teachers, coaches etc. Don't hesiate to get a second or even third opinion and always take their assessments with a grain of salt, parents usually know their child best.

I can understand why a mother might be at the end of her rope, but you can't "beat sense" into a child. Maybe the parents could do with a break, too? Relax. Take the tension out of the family dynamics. If possible, stop "training" the child for a while. Have fun together. This might be a first step to peace.
Then, depending what's at the root of his behaviour, act accordingly.

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Some things are not very clear from your post. It is very vague to be able to give the correct advice.

Children are naughty and beating them will not help them to rectify their mistakes. Infact , they may turn even more stubborn and aggressive. Its good that the child is interested in sports and wants to play. Playing in fresh air is a good thing and we should not try to restrict the child from playing. I understand playing, when the child should be writing his tests or studying, might make his mother and teachers lose patience.... So wanted to advice you that does the child get special play time? Keep 3 hours everyday for him to play and 1 or 2 hours to study or do homework after he comes back from school. Keep a time table which he has to follow.

Also wanted to ask whether the parents have met school counsellors or therapists? May be your nephew could be suffering from learning disorder. Its easy for a child to say he is naughty and doesn't want to study rather than confessing he CAN'T . Just imagine the emotional turmoil in a child, when kids younger than him can study or write better than him .

Having said that, May be your nephew is just plain naughty and children of that age are naughty. May be he is enjoying all the negative attention that he gets due to his behaviour.

  • Having scheduled "homework time" and "play time" is an excellent idea! You can even break them up a little -- play for an hour (a reward for being good at school all day), homework for an hour (because it needs to be done), play for a while (a reward for the homework), eat dinner, etc. – Acire Oct 24 '14 at 16:29
  • Exactly! Sheduling of activities is important. A separate play time associating, home work, dinner time and even half n hour television time – Tiffany Oct 25 '14 at 3:03
  • "May be your nephew is just plain naughty"? – rbp Oct 27 '14 at 15:14

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