How To Channel A Dawdling Kindergartner
January 19, 2016 3:42 PM   Subscribe

I've just received a note in my five-year-old son's backpack from his kindergarten teacher. He is having trouble focusing and finishing his work at school in an appropriate amount of time. What are some ways I can help him focus on his task at hand?

This is not news to me, and it's not just school-related; he's always been a dawdler, whether it's eating dinner, getting dressed, or doing his homework. He blames his friends for talking to him too much, but I know that's not really the issue. He can easily take over an hour to eat his dinner if left to himself, and getting dressed in the morning usually results in shouts to get him to actually do it instead of staring off into space. I don't think it's a problem of getting distracted by outside elements as much as just spacing out.

So far I've come up with the idea to have him define what his "job" is at the beginning of a task, and then if I catch him dreaming, ask him "What's your job right now?" to remind him to get back on track. Are there any other tips you have to corral a dawdler?

If relevant, he has one recess a day, after (a miserably short) lunch. He gets lots of activity and free play after school with his best friend and their babysitter. He watches 20 minutes of age-appropriate TV a night after dinner plus one movie on weekends. He is reading fluently, although I really don't think the issue is that he's not being challenged enough due to the dawdling happening in all areas, not just schoolwork.
posted by Liesl to Education (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I have a dawdler too. Mine is 10. He is just now developing enough of a sense of time and desire to join the social compact that he occasionally shows up ready to go on time.

In kindergarten you can talk to him about it and work on it at home, but really, this is his teacher's rhythm to solve. Asking him not to dawdle or to stay on task from home probably won't cut it.

What worked with my son at that age, but required the adult's participation, was developing songs for tasks like (sorry Frere Jacque) "first one sock on, then next sock on, now a boot, next this boot, now we put our coat on, now we put our coat on, zip it up, zip it up." Getting rhythm going helped. And races. Trying to be done before the end of a song. That kind of thing.

But self-initiated took a while.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:59 PM on January 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would suggest trying to set up a meeting with the teacher to discuss different strategies. I'm doubtful that a parent-only strategy with no implementation at school would work, and in any case hopefully this is not the first dawdler this teacher has ever dealt with! You also might look into screening for ADD - even if you are not going to consider medication right now, there still may be useful strategies that you could use, and more information will help you decide on the best strategies.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:06 PM on January 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

Definitely meet with the teacher. And please try an IEP before medication.

(This is pretty age-appropriate, BTW.)
posted by SMPA at 4:10 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

The teacher may be subtly asking you to consider having him screened for ADHD/learning differences but can't (or doesn't want to) say so directly.

Having an evaluation of his learning style, processing speed, etc. is free and can't hurt anything. Talk with the teacher, request he be evaluated, ask the teacher what they recommend, and go from there.

It is age appropriate, but it also might be something that, if addressed now rather than later, could make a big difference in his ability to succeed at school.
posted by anastasiav at 4:15 PM on January 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

He's 5. Five year olds dawdle. Do you get the impression he suffers himself from not being able do do stuff faster, or is it just that, um, it would be more convenient for you and the teacher if he would hurry up already? If it's the latter, maybe just give him time to grow up a bit. 'Work at school' at this age should be super minimal. Academic work at that age is not relevant for academic success later on. Actually, it's harmful to pressure kids into academic, structured work at that age, as studies have shown again and again. He's 5, let him dawdle.
posted by The Toad at 4:16 PM on January 19, 2016 [9 favorites]

He's 5. Five year olds dawdle.

Kindergarten teachers know that. The teacher reaching out means his dawdling is out of the ordinary. (This was me, and years later I was diagnosed with ADD, and I wish I had had intervention sooner.)
posted by listen, lady at 4:28 PM on January 19, 2016 [21 favorites]

I'd meet with the teacher and ask her what methods she's tried. Its her job to use her education to ensure that he remains on task. If she hems and haws, ask about getting an evaluation.

This dreamy thing is really common among kids from about 5 to 7. Especially kids who read a lot or who have good imaginations. They get drawn into the world inside their heads and forget about what they're in the middle of doing.

One thing you can do at home is to set a loud ticking timer for things like dressing. The auditory cue (the ticking) can help him stay in the moment and the fact that he has to beat the ding makes it a race! Also, if he beats the timer, he gets a reward. My Dad, a behaviorist, ran my sister and I on M&Ms. It's amazing what a little kid will do for 3 candies.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:31 PM on January 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Some things we tried: a timer (provided by the school) so she could take a quick break every five minutes for one minute. It helped since she knew some 'time off' was coming. Also tried noise dampening ear muffs, like they use at a gun range, but sized for a kid. Pink, even! That didn't help as much, but did some good. That was it for things that I was directly involved with. We did what we could at home, but basically she's just slowly grown out of it.
posted by wwartorff at 4:51 PM on January 19, 2016

This is an easy one. Send a note to the teacher telling her that you are working on issues in your home and you expect her to deal with the issues in her class. If she is having trouble engaging your son and keeping him challenged, then perhaps she should ask the guidance counselor for some extra resources.

You shouldn't have to do her job for her. Yes, he may get spacey sometimes but, he's a little kid with a great big brain and it is up to her to help him learn to focus in class. There is nothing that you can do from home (assuming that you are allowing him proper sleep and not feeding him candy for breakfast) to assist her with her job. Smarter kids require more effort to teach. She needs to up her game or ask for him to be evaluated for a different learning program. It's not as if you can threaten him with no dessert after supper because she bored him before lunchtime. Kids don't work that way.
posted by myselfasme at 4:53 PM on January 19, 2016

This is an easy one. Send a note to the teacher telling her that you are working on issues in your home and you expect her to deal with the issues in her class.

This is a really good way to set up an unnecessarily adversarial relationship with your child's teacher and earn yourself a reputation as an unhelpful nutjob who doesn't want your kid to succeed in school.

Ask to meet with her to talk about what you can do at home to support his success in class. She can tell you what has worked with other students and you can chat about what is or is not working at home. Also ask about what she is seeing that is not typical of a capable, smart, 5 year-old kid, enough that she contacted you about it.
posted by charmedimsure at 5:00 PM on January 19, 2016 [37 favorites]

Timer! I had one of those kids. He's almost 13 now, and he now sets a timer for himself on his phone to stay focused while doing homework. And he'll probably do it the rest of his life. His dad and I are in our mid-40's and we're both spacey enough to need to use timers ourselves, too. People are who they are.

I used to think my son would outgrow this or I'd somehow teach him not to be this way. But now I see my parenting job as teaching him strategies to deal with the reality that he is this way. He's going to get distracted. So when he's lost the assignment, that is an opportunity to learn the all important skill of emailing the teacher to get another copy. Honestly, it won't really matter in the long run if he ever learns about the grasslands biome or whatever... but the ability to ask for an extension is a skill that he will use many many times in his life. Reframing it in my mind that way reduced the stress in our house by a lot.

In 5th grade he finally had a teacher who talked about it to me in terms of executive function, which is the mental ability to execute tasks. This was a refreshing change from the previous 5 years of parent-teacher conferences where I always felt like a loser parent.

The book "Smart But Scattered" is what she recommended I read -- it's great. It is basically a manual on how to break down tasks so things actually freaking get done. And you will have to break things down. A lot more than you think.

One advantage of this book is that it's written by an educator so if it works in your home, you and the teacher can use the same strategies at home and at school. And framing it as an executive function deficit will make you and the teacher allies, not adversaries.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:02 PM on January 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

I would second listen, lady in saying that this was also me, and that I too wish I'd been diagnosed with ADD much earlier. An evaluation wouldn't be a big deal, and could give you more knowledge to work with.
posted by Edna Million at 5:04 PM on January 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I write this as I pass hour one of my kids eating mac and fucking cheese for dinner. I am doing my best not to lose my mind over this while I respond to your question.

Both my kids (4, 7) are diagnosed ADHD, one with some sensory processing disorder, and the other with basically no impulse control whatsoever. Both my kids have been formally diagnosed, the older takes meds three times a day, and well... we'really armed with an IEP for each of them.

As their parents, my wife and I consider ourselves our children's advocates. They can't complete something in time, we have to figure out how much is within their control and how much is their respective disorder. We've rejected IEPs that were insufficient, we've gotten external evaluations when the schools lacked the resources (or the expertise) to properly identify problems and necessary support steps.

The point being. It is the school's job to reach and educate your child. It is your job to reach and make sure your child is equipped with the necessary skills to be educated. Think of excessive daydreaming that gets brought up as a note from a teacher as a canary in a coal mine if you are seeing concurrent behavior at home. Your kid needs support from the school.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:17 PM on January 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

The note is weird. Meeting.
posted by k8t at 7:06 PM on January 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am an epic dawdler. I was at 2 and 5 and 10 and 20 and 30. I think it's fine. I have a graduate degree and maintained a professional job for five years. Not all character traits require medication or a diagnosis or interventions. Meet with the teacher and encourage your child to finish his school work. Also schoolwork doesn't matter when you're five. Or ten. But maybe 12. A little.
posted by Kalmya at 7:33 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

He can easily take over an hour to eat his dinner if left to himself, and getting dressed in the morning usually results in shouts to get him to actually do it instead of staring off into space. I don't think it's a problem of getting distracted by outside elements as much as just spacing out.

A few thoughts, just in case they are useful:

- I'm super impressed that any 5yo would sit at the table eating dinner for over an hour. That's some serious dedication!

- I have not met or heard of *any* 5yo who can get dressed in a timely manner when required. None.

- "Staring off into space" makes me wonder, perhaps sleep is an issue? That's what I (and my kids) do when tired.

- Is he 5 as in just-turned-5, or almost 6? School is extremely demanding for many 5yos, especially early on. And from what you say about the recess/lunch situation, it doesn't sound like a particularly child-friendly set-up that the school has got.

- You really need to talk to the teacher and figure out where they're coming from. A note in the schoolbag doesn't seem quite right for that kind of thing.
posted by 8k at 3:10 AM on January 20, 2016

I am an epic dawdler. I was at 2 and 5 and 10 and 20 and 30. I think it's fine. I have a graduate degree and maintained a professional job for five years. Not all character traits require medication or a diagnosis or interventions.

This is so condescending. So do I. So have I. I also have ADD and my life would have been easier if someone had taken that seriously when I was a child.

What is the harm in having a meeting and MAYBE an assessment and getting more information?
posted by listen, lady at 4:14 AM on January 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

Step 0 is have a meeting with the teacher. This will be immensely helpful for both of you - the teacher will hear about the things you're doing at home; you'll hear about the things the teacher is doing at school. You may be able to coordinate some reminder phrases or tactics that you both use. One thing our school has done for our child is to surreptitiously direct him to do his work in a quieter corner of the room. He doesn't know he's getting any sort of special treatment, he just goes there out of habit to do his work.

The teacher meeting is also when you bring up the question others have asked above: A certain amount of dawdling is age appropriate. What is it about your child that raised the teacher's concern? That will help you decide whether to pursue formal evaluations, wait a while but watch carefully, etc.

One question for your consideration is, how is his body strength/motor skills? When we had our child (same age as yours) evaluated for occupational therapy because of attention issues, frequent severe meltdowns, and lots of stress associated with school, he *flunked* the motor skills assessment. We knew he was uncoordinated, but didn't realize how far off he was. Poor core strength can make a kid get tired just from sitting at a table, which makes it that much harder for them to focus and complete their work. A year of OT later, he's doing much better at school and his physical abilities are much improved (he climbs things now!). It's hard to say how much of the improvement at school is maturity vs. second year in identical environment vs. OT, but I presume they're all factors.

FWIW our child is absolutely prone to stop dressing and start reading a book with only one leg of his pants on. Defining "jobs" is an effective strategy. For mornings, we use this job chart so that I can ask him what his next job is and he can go check. It's been very helpful for keeping him on task.

Another thing that helped him get over the hump from completely unable to dress himself to mostly able on some days was I made him a picture chart for how to get dressed. I used the pictures from this site which is geared towards kids with autism. I chose "take off clothes", "put on underwear", "put on shirt", "put on pants". I colored them with colored pencils to make it a little more appealing, glued them down and laminated it. For awhile he referred to that chart every time he got dressed. I thought it was the dumbest idea in the world when the developmental ped suggested it (seriously, how hard is "put on underwear" to remember?) but in all seriousness it has been very helpful.

I spend a lot of time worrying about how much whining/flopping/stalling is out of my kid's control vs how much needs to be disciplined and it's a tough, exhausting line to walk. As an anecdata point, our developmental pediatrician doesn't think he has an underlying attention deficit because he did an amazing job during a long and exhausting battery of tests - but that was 1 on 1 with an engaged adult in a situation that he sensed was high stakes. It's the mundane, boring stuff he can't get himself through. But, a thing I have told myself is that, regardless of whether my child *actually* has ADHD, the strategies and books about how to parent kids with ADHD are the ones I need to be working off of.

Micropanda is thriving in his Montessori preschool now (we'll leave him there through kindergarten so he has an extra year of maturity before we change his environment again) but I foresee having the kind of problems you're talking about when we get to public 1st grade.

Memail if you want to talk more.
posted by telepanda at 7:28 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you been able to observe him in the classroom, and the other children? I have done a bit of volunteering in my daughter's classroom and it is actually stunningly obvious which kids are doing the normal amount of fidgeting and which kids are struggling with focusing on their task. I'm not an educator but in helping with my daughter's kindergarten classroom last year, "normal" seemed to be a bit of giggling/chit chat with friends, asking for help, asking to go to the bathroom, standing at their table instead of sitting, that kind of thing - interrupting the task but still coming back to it, with the occasional gentle reminder from an adult to finish their task. A few kids were intensely focused and required zero reminders to finish. And a few kids were literally on the other side of the room trying to do something else and getting gently re-directed to the task by the teacher.

I always had thought my daughter was a little spacey but seeing her with other kids made me realize that her spaciness was completely within the bounds of normal and wasn't anything that I had to be concerned about.

If this were me, the first thing I'd do would be to meet with the teacher and find out her exact concerns. If you can observe the classroom, I would do that too, so you can see how she manages the classroom and how the other kids behave. Expecting a bunch of 5 and 6-year-olds to be perfectly still and responsive is unrealistic and so far, from what I've seen at my daughter's school, most teachers are perfectly aware of this and find ways to make it work so the classroom isn't complete chaos.

After meeting with the teacher you can go from there - it might be worth have an evaluation done.

The dawdling at home is so so normal. I don't know of any kid under the age of 7 or 8 who will just get dressed without being nagged to death about it. We use timers or have her "race" against her brother but some days it's just "omg get dressed get dressed get dressed you are going to miss the bus!!11 why are you opening a book?!? I said get dressed!!" So, yeah.
posted by sutel at 8:45 AM on January 20, 2016

I haven't observed his classroom, and I'm thinking that may have to get bumped up the priority list. I did write back to the teacher and ask whether his behavior fell within the bounds of normal but frustrating, or whether this was a coded message asking us to get him evaluated. There is absolutely no family history on either side of ADD, ADHD, or what have you.

Physically, he's pretty coordinated, in my opinion. His large movements have always been very good, and his small muscle coordination is pretty good too--his pre K teacher last year was floored by his scissor use, for example. His cursive writing is actually better than his printing (yes, they're doing cursive in kindergarten, for good reasons), probably because he does have to concentrate on it a little harder.

He gets 11 full hours of sleep every day; I don't know how that could possibly be increased. He wakes up readily on his own, so I don't think sleepiness is an issue.

Framing it as an executive function issue is probably the verbiage that I was looking for, and what my instinctual solution of "naming the job, breaking it down into smaller parts and completing those parts" addresses. However, I really don't see any other symptoms of executive function problems--his memory is sharp, he's developing problem-solving skills, and his socialization has taken a huge step forward in the past several months.
posted by Liesl at 11:03 AM on January 20, 2016

I was this kid and I am this adult. I was also diagnosed as hyperactive as a child, but mostly I think that I have a rich, internal story going in my head. Sometimes - many times - what I'm thinking about is more interesting to me than what teachers, parents, or bosses want me to think about. The result is dawdling. The only thing that works for me is specific deadlines and timers. As I got older I was able to create those deadlines for myself, but as a child a parent or teacher needed to help me do it.

Be watchful in how your kid responds to teachers. I remember specific teachers who treated me really poorly since I was a frustrating child to manage in the classroom. As a kid, I couldn't articulate it but as an adult I can see that it bordered on abusive. (Not likely the case with this teacher, just something to watch in general.)
posted by 26.2 at 12:19 PM on January 20, 2016

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