How To Deal With A Smart, Disruptive School Kid

Or how to deal with a kid like me.

Growing up, I was a teacher’s worst nightmare. I was really smart. I got high standardized test scores. I read books. I went to a top public high school, so I had all of the advantages. But I “never realized my potential” in school.

sleeping in class

I got bad grades. I disrupted class. I challenged teachers’ authority. I slept through class. See preferred technique above. I got the right answers but refused to show my work. I got my first detention in 1st grade music class for tripping a friend, but skipped it to play in the intramural soccer championships. In second grade, I refused to learn cursive because “we’ll never need to use it.” In fourth grade, I refused to write in my assignment notebook because I would finish my homework in class.

In fifth grade I made a teacher’s life miserable because she called people living in Africa in the 1500s “African American” and I never let her live it down. In sixth grade, I flunked art class. In seventh, I got kicked out of an english class for the final two months of the year because I made the teacher cry. In 8th grade, I was written up seemingly 100 times.

In high school, one teacher threatened to flunk me even though I had an A average on my tests because I “wasn’t a good class citizen and didn’t participate in class.” Another teacher referred my case to the guidance counsellor because he thought I had a disease because I slept in his class so much. I even got a death threat from another student because I got a higher grade on my term paper and he couldn’t fathom that I was smart because I didn’t add anything in class. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Why? Because I was a smart boy. I was bored out of my mind. I hated the rules. I didn’t care about the process, just the end product. I was messy. I didn’t have good penmanship. I didn’t like to sit still. I thought I was smarter than the teachers, and in some cases I was.

I was also struggling find my place with my peers, so I took on the role of the class clown. And I was good at it. I challenged authority. I pointed out when teachers were wrong. I did the bare minimum. I made their lives miserable because they were boring me to death.

By the end of high school, I wanted to go to a college that as I liked to put it “treated me like a number, not a name,” where I could do my own thing. I went to Wisconsin, found things I was interested in and have been successful since then.

For some smart kids, school is terrible. It tries to beat the creativity out of you. It tries to make you conform. To write and draw between the lines. Luckily, school never had a chance with me. Many of my smart friends had similar problems. And I’ve met kids and parents who have this same problem today.

So how should schools and parents deal with smart kids who are like me? Here’s a list of ten things parents can do to help their smart kids survive school.

1. Find teachers who are willing to work with you

My parents were at wits end, but they constantly demanded that teachers find challenging work for me, or give me alternative assignments. For example, in fifth grade I read 400 page biography of Jackie Robinson and wrote a book report instead of reading a 75 page book that was assigned. Or in 8th grade when a teacher agreed to let me do my own research papers on topics that I wanted. Thanks Ms. Marco, Ms. Keane, Mr. Lauasser, Mr. Gilbert and more.

2. Demand that your kid learns on his own

My parents didn’t really care what my grades were, but if I wasn’t reading and writing on my own outside of school, I was in trouble. Make a deal with your kid that you’ll relax a bit on grades if they continue to learn outside of school.

3. Tell your kids it’s not acceptable to disrupt other kids’ learning

Although I didn’t always follow this rule, I knew I would get in trouble at home if I was disrupting class for others. That led directly to my sleeping in class kick.

4. Teach Life Lessons

My parents explained that while I may be smarter than some of my teachers and that I was bored, life isn’t fair and that I’d have bosses or businesses dealings with people who were unfair, not as smart as me and where I didn’t get to set the rules.

5. Find a non academic outlet outside of school

My parents pushed me to take up reffing soccer at age 12. It gave me power, responsibility and someone to scream at me when I screwed up. It kept me in line. Check out programs like Exosphe.re, Sector67100state and others in your area.

6. Find what interests your kid and let them work on it

I wrote stories about hockey and soccer. I learned math from baseball stats. I loved learning about foreign countries. I put most of my effort into learning through things I liked. Play to their strengths.

7. Let them fail

Your kid is likely arrogant. Let him fail. I refused to write in my assignment notebook and I forgot my work a few times. My parents didn’t make excuses for me and made me take lower grades.

8. Force him to accept the consequences of his actions

Don’t let him blame other people when he fails and things go wrong.

9. Help him learn from his mistakes

Don’t “I told you so” him. It won’t work. Say “maybe it would have been better if you did X next time” and leave it at that. Your kid is smart. He gets it. He just doesn’t want to admit it.

10. Plan for the long run

My parents always told me that they would be furious if I got bad grades that didn’t let me get into a decent college. They tolerated lots of bullshit as long as I kept decent grades. Set your long term expectations clearly and demand that they follow them.

Did you ever have these problems? How did your parents and teachers deal with you?

65 Replies to “How To Deal With A Smart, Disruptive School Kid”

  1. interesting that you said you “rather be treated as a number, and not a name”. usually, it’s the other way around. or did you accidentally switch the two?

    1. Nope, I really wanted to have the freedom to do what I was interested in and not forced to draw in the lines and follow everyone else’s script. After high school, I really wanted to be treated as a number! And I think many smart kids feel the same way.

  2. You sound like my first grader! He breaks the rules on purpose but has now started physically hiting others to see what he can get away with. He spent 3 hours in the principles office last week. While in there he used scotch tape to tape her filing cabinet closed. When I asked him why, he said he liked being in the office because it was quiet and he could concentrate. At this age GT class is only once a week and anything that doesn’t come easy for him he doesn’t want to do. I’m at a loss and so our his teachers. He does seem to act better while in his spanish class. I don’t want to break his spirit but he has got to start following the rules and keeping his hands to himself. I’m afraid if I don’t get this under control he will grow up to follow the wrong path.

    1. My completely unsolicited advice would be to be really strict about hitting other kids and physically acting out, but I wouldn’t worry so much about school work yet. Ask him what he’s interested in…sports? art? music? video games? foreign countries? It really doesnt matter.

      Give him open ended projects about each one, or talk to his teachers so they can assign him alternative projects/reading that will come easy to him, plus be interesting. Get 1-2 successes under his belt for things he likes and start building from there. I was a huge sports fan and liked to go to games. My 1st grade teacher told me to write a story that filled my entire journal (like 90 written pages!), whenever i was bored or finished my work early. I wrote an entire notebook about going to a hockey game, even bringing the program to write stuff from there into my notebook. It doesnt really matter what he’s interested in, just get him going on something!

      Feel free to email me if you’d like more about my experience.

      1. I think my boys a little like you. he’s 9 now and having a tough time at school. last year his teacher just didn’t get what he’s all about. he loves to learn and has a wonderful natural curiosity that leads him to read books on space/fossils/rocks, all sorts! at school they are desperate to get him to sit, be quiet, not answer all the q’s, stop disturbing the other kids, and he’s coming home from school so unhappy… it’s really worrying me.
        I feel they are not teaching him to his ability. he’s bored senseless has a good sense of humour and is using this to kill the 6 hours a day at school. he has had 2 teachers previously that embraced his personality and harnassed and motivated him.. and he flourished. but this year is not looking so positive. 🙁 your article is interesting and strikes a chord so thanks 🙂

        1. As long as you keep nurturing his interest in space/rocks/fossils etc, i wouldnt be too worried about him being bored in school. Tell him that he is allowed to read in class, but cant disrupt. Or give him a side project to research. As long as you understand that results (grades) dont really matter until high school, make sure he keeps learning on his own!

          It’s hard, but im sure he’ll be able to get through it with your help!

  3. I feel the same way in school. I’m a freshman in Highschool. I could finish my work in all of my classes by lunchtime if they let me. But, I’ve never caused any trouble in class. I doodle a lot and daydream. Because of the daydreaming I tend to miss a lot in class, but it never takes me long to catch up. I used to always ask teachers “Why?” all the time, every class. I gave up eventually on teachers, because they never really knew, and went straight to Google. One teacher told me I wouldn’t understand why the math formula worked like that, so I spent the last hour of the class and broke it down. Looked on Google that night and I had gotten it right. I always figured everyone else is bored too and i never bothered asking for more advanced classes until this year. Now it’s too late and I’m bored out of my wits…

    1. Hey Madison, it’s never too late to study on your own. Don’t let boring school kill your desire to learn on your own and your creativity. Try to do stuff that interests you, read, maybe even try to get an internship somewhere. Anything to keep yourself learning and interested in the world. And don’t worry…it gets better as you get older!

  4. Thanks for sharing your story Nathan! I have a 7 year old son who is above his age level in his school work, but is very disruptive and has a hard time staying focussed in his class. He is seen as the “class clown”. Your advice here is very informative and helpful to me. I can see that he is already feeling that there is something wrong with him, and I feel terrible when his teachers, and because of them, I, get frustrated by his behaviour in class. I plan to talk with his teacher to see if we can find ways to challenge him more, and to keep him from getting bored. Your words here are very encouraging, and again, I thank you for sharing.

  5. Nathan, my grandson Louie is 6 and in the first grade. He has had struggles since daycare because he was smarter than the other kids. He has been bullied at times by teachers because they do not know how to “handle ” him.
    This year we thought would be different. It seemed that this teacher had experience with his type. But it didn’t last long.
    Louie will argue if he believes he is right about something. He gets bored and sings, talks or picks on the other kids.
    It has even been suggested that medication might be the answer. My daughter, Louies mom, is so upset. She said he is NOT going on medication.
    Which I am thankful for.
    Louies grades are always in the 90’s. When you think he is not listening he can repeat back to you everything you said. He is reading way above average. And can pronounce out words that will surprise you.
    His parents are at a loss as to what needs to be done for Louie.
    Last year he was getting into so much trouble that he was crying one night telling his mom he hated himself because he was so bad. This coming from a 5 yr old.
    Now this school year he tells me he hates school because he is always in trouble and doesn’t know what to do.
    Your article is priceless,is their anything that you can give insight to for a child is age? How can he be challenged to channel his intellect and restlessness?

    1. What does he like to do? What’s he interested in? Sports? Puzzles? History? Planes? Pirates? Knights? Outer space? Find something he already likes and give him a project to find out more about it. Our build a model. Or read a book. Anything to stimulate his curiosity and keep him learning.

      Tell him that he should try to behave in class because the other kids are trying to earn and its not fair to them to disrupt. Give him something alternative to do if he’s bored like read a book or write in a journal. Also that even though he might be bored, he has to learn to deal with it because adults have to deal with the same problem he has (being bored in school/work/jobs etc).

      Just find something he likes that’s mentally stimulating and give him an open ended project. I bet he’ll surprise you. Keep me updated, i’d be happy to suggest ideas if its helpful.

      1. Hi Nathan….an Kim

        This is My Grandson to a “T”..
        WE Lived in Arizona and My Grandson class for K an 1 st grade were 6 kids.. He was so far ahead of them they worked Great with Him..they brought in a teachers Aide.. To work with him..he was reading 4th grade level..in 1st grade…
        We are now in Washington State and he has 28 kids..
        I know he is Overwhelmed with this..
        he is up disrupting the class…poking kids.. Can’t sit more than 2mins she says on the carpet for story time
        His teacher an I are working together…
        But Again She Wants A DOCTOR On Board…I know what She Wants to happen..
        We are not Doing Drugs..
        I have a Board on the Wall.. He Earns Points its a Positive and Motive for him..
        But If we get Negitve Notes from his Teacher Points get taken away..he Earns Points for his favorite Things he likes to do..he doesn’t have enough points for what he wants.. He can’t do that ..
        His teacher made the comment that if she Works with him one on one..he sits and gets Done..
        Well He got that at his Other School..
        So I talked with my Grandson.. Letting him know that there is too many kids in his class ..he needs to Share his Teacher..
        We do Have a Doctors appt.. With the Teachers List to discuss…
        My Grandson does great at home..but with his moments..
        when The Teacher Writes me..I feel like she is talking about a different Child..
        But reading What you did at home an School I can Understand…

        Thank you For this in site..
        Determine Grandma..

    2. OMG! You just described my 7 year old. Trouble in Day Care (Montessori), 5k and 1st grade. He gets so upset to the point of anger or tears. However his grades are always 90 and above. I am at my wits end. I just got another message today from his teacher. He hit a kid who was making fun of him (this is new behavior). Normally, he gets in trouble for not starting on his work right away and distracting the other kids in class. I have talked and punished to no avail.

  6. Thank you so much for this. My 8 year old son is having problems like this. I thought he was bored and have even brought it to the teacher’s attention before. However, now I have a conference with them tomorrow. He is already in the advanced 3rd grade class and in GT (gifted and talented), they need to make him more challenged if he is having time to “talk in class” or “not follow directions”. Thank you Nathan I am more prepared on what to say now going into this tomorrow. I really appreciate it (I printed this out to show my husband and go over it with my son Kylan).

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful! Even if the school won’t help, you might be able to give him a good book to read when he is bored so that he is learning and won’t disrupt other kids.

      1. I have a few kids like this in a heterogeneous 9th grade hybrid science/history class. Sometimes he’s right on point, other times he is all over the place wreaking havoc with kids who really are in academic trouble and need to focus. Today I wanted to strangle him. Because I want him to care. I want him to do more work – which I do offer. He doesn’t do the work I assign in class, which is okay, cause most of the time he does his homework… but with a handful of real behavior and academic problems in that class, I need him to be a leader. I don’t care if he walks around the back of the room when he gets antsy. I do care that he goes to the bathroom for 15 minutes because I don’t want him to miss stuff. The special ed teacher who works with some of the other kids wants me to kick him out. Can’t do it.

        How can I give him more challenging work when he’s not doing the current, ground-laying work he needs to dive further in?

        1. How do you know he won’t be able to do the harder work? Maybe he’s not doing the ground work because its easy for him? I’d give him something really hard and see if he fails. When he does, you’ll have a reason to show him he needs the ground work.

          I would look for other work with a twist that he likes. If he’s into sports, give him something science/history with sports. If its space, give him something to do with space. I would look for ways to keep him occupied with things that he actually likes and I’ll be he behaves better and learns more.

  7. It never occurred to me to tell him that his disruptions were preventing other kids from learning. I just spoke to him about that (he’s 10) and he got quiet. Thank you for your perspectives.

    1. duh! OMG, I can’t believe it never occurred to you to think about OTHER PEOPLE? Your kid makes all the other kids, and probably their parents, miserable. Imagine the conversations and what they deal with at home because of your son!! This isn’t about a kid being smarter and bored as a result, it’s about being so stupid that he can’t see how plain rude he is.

      1. I would normally delete comments like this as there’s nothing constructive here, it’s just being mean on the internet, calling a 10 year old stupid.

        But i’ll leave it this time. School is about learning. Maria’s son got a great life lesson and hopefully it works. I bet you were the perfect kid, right? who never had to learn anything?

        1. You can remove it. The fact you read it is good – I know it will sit in your head for a long time…the key point is that people like you have no respect for those around you. If more teachers could say, “get out of my classroom because you are a drag to the OTHERS in the class”, half the problems we have in schools would get fixed. But no, we have to “invest” in trouble makers, make them “feel” ok, let them know they are “smart”, and “challenge” them because their parents would become BIGGER trouble-makers for MORE people, and just like Maria, they would never even consider that their child could possibly be a problem to OTHER PEOPLE.

          1. Lets be clear, parents who think their kid can do no wrong are part of the problem. And some parents will go to any length to blame others for their kids problems. But many don’t, including my parents and the parents of many of my middle school friends. They can say “my kid is disrupting, how can we fix it” and the solution can be more nuanced than just “lets kick him out or hit him” like you’re proposing.

  8. You just described my 11 year old boy. We are at wits end with him not engaging and following directions in school. Although he is disruptive at times, he’s very good hearted. On the brink of letting him do what ever he wants and taking the consequences for it. Be it fail or just get by. Searching for the answer I stumbled on your post. Wish us luck!

  9. You still sound arrogant, narcissistic, and not very smart. All the behaviors you describe (including your sleeping “habit”) disrupted the class, the ENTIRE class. Imagine just the TIME you stole from the teacher. And you had a huge impact on your peers and their families who probably struggled with how you made the classroom miserable for the OTHER kids. Guess what Mr. Adult, school isn’t a playground where you can test and try on behavior problems for a teacher to deal with. And I’m sick of parents who think their “organically grown” child deserves different rules or understanding because he’s “smart”. Callin’ it like it is – disruptive kids should be spanked.

    1. Very constructive reply! I’m sure you were a perfect child who never learned from his mistakes when we was growing up, right? You were a mature adult from when you popped out of your mom, right?

      The whole point of the post is to show that I recognized that being disruptive wasn’t ok and to look for solutions to the problem that worked for me and might work for other people too.

      A few questions: how is quietly sleeping being disruptive? And what would you do? Just smack kids into submission? Sure sounds like that will foster creativity, entrepreneurship and the work ethic of the future we need in our global economy!

      1. Nothing in your “blog” speaks to a sense of self-reflection or apology. It reads like you reenacted scenes from The Breakfast Club. How about, “wow, I was disruptive because I was a jerk” not, “I was disruptive because I was smart.” You got attention for that stuff – you wouldn’t have done it otherwise. The fact you still don’t see this as an adult says a lot about your personal evolution and probably what you are STILL like – self-centered and full of yourself. Global economy, shmonomy; entrepreneurs and creative people have respect for the fact that they AREN’T the smartest ones in the room.

        1. I think its pretty clear I was an immature jerk to some teachers back when I was 9-14. All kids are immature in some way, and mine was being disruptive in classes where I was bored out of my mind. It’s not an excuse, its just the truth.

          The majority of intelligent boys in my elementary and middle school were like me: they read 2-4 years above grade level, they got their work done in the first few minutes of class and then had nothing to do while the rest of the class caught up. Most got into trouble and disrupted class, which I agree, isn’t fair to the other kids who are trying their best to learn and the teacher who is trying their best to teach.

          So, short of smacking kids, like you suggested in your first comment, what do you do? Telling a 10-12 year old he’s being a dick might help, and it did in my case and seemingly in Maria’s son’s case, as I stopped disrupting and just slept, so as not to affect the other kids. Other smart kids in my class skipped school, read books during class or just continued to disrupt.

          The core of the problem is that our schools were created back in the 1800s to create farm and factory workers. And not much has changed. See Ken Robinson’s talk about school killing creativity (http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en). If you just punish smart kids for disrupting you’ll break their creativity, which is the exact opposite of what we need in our new economy.

          Smart kids disrupt class because they’re bored out of their minds, they’re immature and don’t have an outlet. When teachers challenged us, gave us interesting work or side projects, most of us didn’t disrupt.

          So I ask again, short of bringing back rulers and smacking kids on the knuckles, what do you suggest?

          1. Smart kids know how to make boring things interesting. Some smart kids get away with being complete jerks because they are brilliant and they know it. Their parents ignore things because of their brains. I agree that finding more challenging work might help, but that is called independent learning so that is up to the parents to provide that extracurricular material and find specialty schools for those kinds of kids. My kids are gifted. They are both in college now. Bottom line – kids act up in school because they do the same thing at home and the parents allow it. Give the kids a book to take to school and read when they are done with work. I’ve never met a smart kid who did not like to read. Most of the time that is what they want to do instead of doing anything else. As long as they get their work done to prove they are smart for that class, they should be allowed to read.

          2. You’re really generalizing here. My parents didn’t allow it at home. In fact, they really had no idea how I acted at school, except for parent teacher conferences, which happened once or twice a year.

            Many teachers do not approve of independent learning projects while the students are in class. Many also don’t allow students to read other books while the other students are doing their lessons, as they believe it’s not fair for the other students to see them reading and doing other things rather than the class assignment.

            You need a partnership between the parents and the teachers if you want a smart disruptive kid to stop disrupting.

      2. Wow…how can sleeping quietly be disruptive? That’s like saying learning can only occur in the class room. Disruption does not have to be noisy. It can be any activity that distracts others. Again, think about others. You did not consider that those kids are wasting time fuming that you get to sleep and they can’t? Any behavior that is contrary to learning is disruptive and sleeping when you should be doing some sort of class work is not appropriate. Children will find ways to use that as an excuse for them to do the same not realizing they do not have the same brain power you do. As an adult, I thought you would have figured that out as well, but everyday is a good day to learn something new……part of being gifted is to have a moral fiber….that is part of the gifted test……caring about others……

        1. You recommended giving a kid a book to read, or independent learning.

          Using your logic, how is that any different than sleeping in class? How is reading a different book or doing other work less distracting? “Did you not consider that those kids are wasting time fuming” that I got to read a Jackie Robinson biography while the rest of the class read a boring book nobody wanted to be reading? That’s a real situation from 5th grade, where my teacher forced me to put my book away and pretend to keep reading chapter 3 of the the class book when I’d already finished the entire book.
          You’re really stretching with the slippery slope argument that “less gifted” students will read this and mimic the behavior and that it’s morally wrong to sleep in class or not do the same work or that it shows that a gifted student doesn’t care about others.

  10. hey, this is a great real! list (for my confident “unteachable” 5yo). best I found so far (…set the boundaries, blah blah;). we are getting to it but a little assurance is sometimes great to hear/read. we constantly debate about the amount of rules x freedom and this article has just the answer. tried Montessori preschool but that didn’t work as hoped. now committed to home-schooling + classes out, still searching the right balance… always will be i guess:) thanks for this post()

  11. Your description of yourself is also the perfect description of my 6th grader. Our pediatrician told me (after a teacher suggested I medicate him because he seemed distracted) that he was (expletive starting with F) bored. He’s now failing his strongest subject. Other classes are fine, but he’s simply not doing the work. You know why. He already knows the material, and he doesn’t feel the need to prove it. Thank you for this post. I am making myself remember that my child marches to the beat of his own drum. That’s the best part of him. He’s just got to make it through school. We tell him that, right now, school is his job, and good grades/happy parents are the paycheck. Doesn’t phase him too much, but I hope it will click eventually. We don’t put any emphasis on straight As, but he must show respect to the teachers and the planning that went in to the lessons being taught. We’ve told him that life is full of people who have different beliefs and methods, and sometimes those people are in charge of us. Tough luck. Gotta deal with them – and succeed. He’s always been wise/smart beyond his years He’s involved with community theatre and excels. School is the struggle. He attends the #1 middle school in the state, which happens to be a fine arts school. His fine arts grades are near 100. His academic teachers are fed up with him, because of his apathy.

  12. OMG Nathan Lustig, thank you so much for this post!! I am nearing my wits end with what seems like an eternity of dealing with this behavior from my now 9th grade 14 year old. He loves basketball and video games and all of the social media tools of today, yet we make him earn those things and it seems like an endless cycle of taking and giving back these things he thinks his life depends on. He is arrogant and smart and booooored, yet he is soooo unmotivated to go beyond the bare minimum effort. I try not to pressure him because I think long term the stress will cause more damage than a C or D in a high school class, but I want him to be innately passionate about his own success even while doing things he doesn’t want to do!!! He is a reluctant reader and writer (this takes too much time!!!) but when he does it he is good at it! Thanks for the tips and for your testimony as it helps be to know we are not alone in this circumstance!! Blessings!

  13. Nathan,

    I have a meeting for my daughter tomorrow. I think this is even more complicated for a girl. They expect boys to act out but girls need to sit, behave, and look pretty. We have been dealing with this for years and years. Now 12 yrs old and Jr high and it’s just getting worse.

    The teachers have given up – she is tagged – they expect her to fail. And she knows it. But as a perfectionist she’s making herself crazy.

    She is working into a depression from all the pressure.

    IEP meeting tomorrow because they have her tagged as Learning Disabled. – yeah ok she’s smarted than most of the teachers.

    I am desperate to turn this around.

    Any more ideas?

    1. I would focus on explaining to her that being perfect isn’t important in most things. And that it’s an impossible standard to live up to. Try to explain the 80-20 rule, the law of diminishing returns etc. Tell her that it doesn’t really matter what her grades are, as long as she’s learning. Try to get her to be self-motivated, not motivated from “teachers who expect her to fail.”

      I think step one is to try to get her out of her head to stop trying to live up to an impossible standard, show her that it’s ok to fail, that it’s normal etc, then fix the school.

  14. Thank you Nathan, for taking the time to address such important issue.
    My just turned 9 years old son – Nathaniel- has excellent memory, read well above his grade and is straight A…but talks a lot in school…he is very social and friends with all the kids, however is always accused to be disruptive…so now, just one month into 4th grade the new teachers are “pushing” us to give him some sort of medicine trying to label him ADD…when in despite of excellent academics all he does is be disruptive, as he complains that school is so boring…

    1. Hi Sol, thanks for commenting. Like me, he is probably disruptive to the teacher and to the other students. I would try what my parents did: tell me that I can’t interrupt class, plus give him other projects/books/work he can do that he’s interested in. As long as he keeps learning, I bet he’ll be fine!

  15. I’m at my wits end with my 11 year old son! 6th grade is killing me. we have been in school for 10 weeks and I just got my 4th call from school. He is the funny guy in class making noises , dead legging kids and just being plain annoying! His science teacher said he is so smart but he is disturbing other kids from learning. We take things away even threatened to move him to a private school but nothing is working. He is a good kid, he is smart and funny but he doesn’t know when to stop and I don’t know what else to do with him. I feel like a terrible parent because I can’t control my 6th grader. His grades are good but is behavior is driving me crazy and his teachers.

    1. Hi Sandy,

      I would try to find one thing that he really loves: sports, space, a foreign country, the ocean, really anything. and have him do independent projects about that one thing he loves. it might get him to behave because itll give him something to do.

  16. My 9 year old daughter fits this description very well.
    My question is this. Is sending them to conventional public school hurting their development of their gift? They have to conform to the box for 8 hours 5x a week. I really struggle with making her go. She thrives on 1:1 adult interaction but it would have to be a tutor because she and I but heads.
    I tried homeschooling in kindergarten but everything she did (seat work wise) was a fight.
    She would put her head down and not work.
    I fought with her for a year on reading. She hated every minute of it but by the end of the year she was at the top on reading.
    She is frequently disturbing others or walking around her classroom.
    Her teachers say she can do it but chooses not to.
    Her grades are mostly c’s because once she does get a worksheet to do she is lost because she was distracting others or reading a book while the teacher was talking. She has been given a worksheet and made a 0. The teacher handed it back and said you are actually going to have to try and then she made a 100.
    She usually gets 40’s on math or 90’s- no inbetween. Please help with any advice!

    1. Every kid is different, but in my case going to public school didn’t harm me. I was bored during some classes, but I learned how to make friends and relate to people my age. My Dad always told me that life wasn’t fair and that I had to learn how to get along with people who had power when I didn’t. He always drove it home that in the workplace I would have coworkers or bosses that I thought were wrong, or weren’t that great at their job, just as I was thinking in school, and told me I had to develop strategies to deal, or I wouldn’t be successful in the future.

      I think the key is to tell her its not acceptable to disturb other students, as that’s harming them, which is not fair to them. Then find out what she actually really likes and give her projects that she can investigate on her own or during class. I wouldn’t worry so much about grades until high school if she’s learning on her own, is reading and is into other interesting things.

  17. Your blog (or whatever this site is called) is making me cry. YOU are my son. OR MY son is YOU. He is disrespectful to teachers (as all he does is get “yelled” at…even though he is NOT the one involved in “x”…and I have had other adults bear witness to this fact), bored out of his mind, and yet, when he asks for more work, his 8th grade teacher tells him he is “too immature” to handle that. We are getting him out of the brick and mortar school for High School and placing him in our iSTEM High School where they don’t “get grades” they “master subjects.” The sky is the limit at this particular High School. I just have to find a way (as I got yet ANOTHER phone call from the Assistant Principal today) to get him through the remaining 34 physical schools days left in the year. Ugh.

    1. i would tell him to stop disrupting and to read a book for the rest of the year, i bet it will work! i made a deal with a teacher in 7th grade to do my work from another room and read a book for the rest of the hour for the last 2 months of the year, it worked out great. the teacher got me out of my class, i got to do the work at my pace and read books. its only 34 school days.

  18. Thank you for this post. My second grader is just like this. He is in the GT program at his school, so they accommodate many of his learning needs and behavioral quirks. However, his teacher is asking us to test him for ADHD because he is disorganized, doesn’t complete his work and disturbs his classmates. He is super gregarious and says he is just bored. We are in the middle of the assessment right now. Did you have teachers or others suggest there was a learning disability behind your behavior? I am terrified of being pressured to medicate my kid because he just isn’t motivated at school

    1. Hi Angela,

      As far as I know, my parents were never asked to medicate me, but im not sure. I’ve always thought that while there are a great many people who obviously benefit from medication, many times schools seem to want to medicate because it makes their lives easier. I would try reiterate to your kid that its not ok to disturb others, as its not fair to them. Push your kid to read a book when he’s bored, or research something that they’re interested in. Think about strategies that might make it better. I would also look at mindfulness programs that teach kids to recognize their emotions as they happen and give them strategies to channel them in a more positive way. Hope that’s helpful!

  19. Thank you for the suggestions! What you describe fits one of my 2nd-graders to a ‘T’. He’s doesn’t like to show his work because he thinks it’s a waste of time, pushes right up to the limit on his behavior with his teacher, and doesn’t bother answering questions on tests because he “doesn’t feel like it.” In his afterschool program, he is demanding and inconsiderate of the counselor’s time, because of his arrogance. The boy is an excellent reader, creates his own comics about his favorite video games, and can recite verbatim all the selling points from TV ads for products he wants. All that motivates him is playing video games, and watching videos about video games. His teacher is already encouraging him to read advanced material in class, and knows he’s bored, but her hands are tied to a certain extent by what she is required to spend time teaching for the standardized tests.

    1. Happy to try to help…hope its useful! I think being very clear with him that it’s not acceptable to be arrogant and that he’ll have to deal with people he thinks are not as smart, motivated or interested in what he is for his entire life, so he’d better start figuring out how to deal with it! If he likes video games, I would try to get him interested in the building phase or the marketing phase, so that he learns something more than just how to play them.

  20. What I see that “worked,” out of this whole article, is that you ultimately refrained from doing or not doing certain things because your parents would be angry. This confirms my belief that no matter how a teacher teachers, no matter how challenging the curriculum (or not, ) and no matter how much provision is made for the accommodation of special interests, it doesn’t matter to a disruptive child. If their behavior with negatively impact personal relationship that they care about, they will change the behavior. Apparently your relationship with your parents was important enough to you so that you desired to live up to their expectations (in your case, getting good grades,)

    I don’t, for a moment, accept that disruptive behavior occurs because a student is smart and bored. I was a very smart, “gifted” student myself. I had ample opportunity to be bored in school, but I was never disruptive. Simple reason – that would be wrong. It would be impolite and inconsiderate. I submit that if being a decent, compassionate and considerate person is an area that receives far too little attention in the education of children, The family is the most important teacher in this regard. Homeschooling is also an excellent choice for students who have accelerated learning capability, but even then, they need to attend to tasks they may dislike. The primary issue with regard to behavior centers upon learning to take responsibility for the effect our behavior may have on other people’s lives, and to develop self discipline because that is a good thing, both for ourselves and others.

    1. Hi Sue,

      Thanks for commenting. I totally agree that parents play a big role, but I disagree that teachers play no role either, as you seem to be asserting. My parents were plenty mad at me for disrupting classes or not paying attention. It didn’t help in classes where teachers refused to let me do my own thing or simply punished me. It really only made it worse for everyone involved. Many teachers gave me tasks that I enjoyed or challenged me. As soon as I had something interesting or a new challenge, I was happy to work and didn’t create any problems in class.

      Just because you were a great child and had great self control doesn’t mean that everyone else was. Just as it wouldn’t make sense to say that because I was a disruptive smart kid that all smart kids will be disruptive.

      I can think of at least 15 other students I grew up with that had the same pattern of behavior that I did. I don’t think it’s always moral failing of an 8-13 year old kid as you seem to be asserting, rather a combination of being bored in classes that aren’t challenging with immature kids and parents with varying degrees of support.

      We’d be better off if schools and parents taught more self control, but we would also be better of if school wasn’t a one size fits all system from the 1800s that doesn’t really work well for many smart kids, especially boys. It’s the system we’re stuck with for now, but I wouldn’t be so fast to judge all kids who weren’t like you in school.

      1. I would respond here with quoting some of your other posts- “Happy to try to help…hope it’s useful! I think being very clear with him that it’s not acceptable to be arrogant and that he’ll have to deal with people he thinks are not as smart, motivated or interested in what he is for his entire life, so he’d better start figuring out how to deal with it!” … I would try reiterate to your kid that its not ok to disturb others, as its not fair to them. Push your kid to read a book when he’s bored, or research something that they’re interested in. Think about strategies that might make it better. I would also look at mindfulness programs that teach kids to recognize their emotions as they happen and give them strategies to channel them in a more positive way. Hope that’s helpful!”…..This is precisely what I am expressing…I do also completely agree that one size fits all education will always have its limitations.

      2. I agree. The more I research this the more I come to realize we need to offer different kinds of schools for our very advanced children. These children are prolific, creative, abstract thinkers. They zoom through the basics and want to get to the meat of their interests. My wish is that we had schools to offer to these exceptional students.

    2. I think you’re describing the difference between bright and gifted. You may have been bright. Gifted children, which is what I think the writer is has different characteristics. We’re all speaking about gifted children.

  21. Ugh battling my 10 year old step son now and it is unbelievable the trouble he gets into on a daily basis for talking out, being disrespectful, not paying attention, etc. We are at wits end with him and don’t know what else to do. We ground him and take his privileges away to no avail. I just got a note from his teacher and after a wonderful day yesterday (this was preceded by a horrible day and a come to Jesus talk that evening) he had his worst day at school this week. I just can’t fathom what goes on in his head because WE JUST TALKED ABOUT THIS. We haven’t just beaten the dead horse, we nuked it. We were supposed to go do something fun together this weekend (just the two of us) and I told him he had to keep it together the rest of the week in order to go and now I have to take that away from him. He needs and gets consequences but they do not work and now I am not sure what to do.

    1. Hi James,

      Sometimes consequences work, other times finding another outlet for his energy might work. I would look for things that he’s really interested in and try to get him to work on it in class when he’s otherwise disrupting. I would also look at what you can get him to do outside of the classroom. Does he do any sort of sports/physical activity? That might help too! Let me know how it goes!

  22. I am so glad I found this, thank you for writing it. Our sons teacher informed us that he won’t sit still and makes noises and struggles with rushing through things. A TA suggested that he make his letter “a” bigger because he just wrote it really small…so what does he do? He made a giant “a” across the entire paper ????

    She seems to be hinting at ADHD. Which…ehhhhh. I think he’s bored and probably bored of sitting. They only have one half hour recess. He is only seven, he is extremely smart especially with reading and math. This is just like completely opposite of how his teacher last spoke of him.
    So thank you, again, for writing this. I have hope. He’s a great kid and he is going to do great things.

    1. Thanks for commenting, glad you found it useful. Good luck with your son, and try to help him find something that he really likes and is interested in learning about!

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