Child Distracted in School

Reader Question: Our son, age 8, did fine in school in first grade, but has struggled in second. We’ve taken your advice and not helped much with his homework other than occasional and brief “consultations.” He’s making average grades but his second-grade teacher – she’s fairly young, by the way – tells us that he is actually slightly behind in both reading and math. We met recently with the school counselor, school psychologist, and his teacher, all of whom recommended that he be tested for ADHD (they told us that he’s easily distracted) and a learning disability. We really don’t want to go down that road, but they’re making it seem like that’s the only responsible thing for us to do. What are your thoughts on this?

I agree. You really don’t want to go down that road. In the first place, the fact that an eight-year-old boy is “struggling” in school and “slightly” behind in reading and math, yet making decent grades does not, in my estimation, indicate a serious problem. The bell-shaped curve – which schools seem to have forgotten (or conveniently ignore) – predicts that some otherwise normal (problem-free) children will perform below the academic mean. Private schools try to weed out children who will bring down their test scores; public schools cannot. So, in public school, one is likely to find a greater proportion of kids who “struggle.” Furthermore, a disproportionate number of the kids in question are likely to be boys – and boys tend to be distractible.

Two things jump out at me: first, that your son didn’t have problems in grade one; second, that the second-grade teacher is inexperienced. It may well be that your son’s struggles say more about her than they do him. I would be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and simply recommend that you hire a tutor – ideally, an older, veteran teacher – to work with him during the summer and bring him up to academic speed before he goes back to school in the fall.

The simplest and most obvious explanation for a problem of this sort is usually the correct explanation; furthermore, the simplest and most obvious solution is usually the best solution.

John Rosemond

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at