Joining — or Missing — the Class Trip

Q: I have a question regarding my 12-year-old son. He was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago and is now attending a special school where they are working on this issue. Until this year, none of his teachers had found a way to help him focus that was successful for a significant period of time. They have given him a love of Torah and Yiddishkeit, and he is an enthusiastic boy, but it’s really been his individual paras who have helped him the most in class. We have changed the medication for his ADHD numerous times, and the one we are trying now finally seems to be working.

During the first month of this year he didn’t sit still much, but he has greatly improved since then. (His school was unable to find a para for him during the first month, and that was very hard for him). The Rebbi he has now is the best he’s ever had in giving over material and helping students acquire knowledge. Now my son doesn’t have to be the “errand boy” to continually leave class, and he is learning much more material.

Up until now, behavior modification charts have not really been effective for him — he just preferred “doing his own thing” in class. Our problem now is that, because of his poor behavior during the first month of school, he hasn’t earned enough “points” to take part in the class ski trip. It is getting close to the end of the time period to earn these points from his Rebbi, and he is still short quite a number of them. I discussed this with his Rebbi, and he gave my son a special opportunity to gain more points. Unfortunately, my son didn’t meet the challenge to do the extra assignment his Rebbi suggested.

He is still very well-behaved and sits for long periods of time in class, which has never ever happened before! I’m just so afraid that if he misses out on this trip he will give up and begin to misbehave again. Once in the past he missed a class trip and he was sad and angry for days. He can be very impulsive, and I’m very worried that he might spiral downward if he can’t go on the trip.

A: Clearly I don’t know the particulars of your son’s behavior in class, and I am hearing this from a loyal mother’s perspective. In general, as has been discussed in previous columns, there are three types of children who will usually not change their actions as a result of experiencing “natural consequences.” (Natural consequences means learning that if you are late for minyan, you will pay a knas; if you go to sleep very late, you will not function well in class, etc.)

The first group is comprised of those who prefer to stay in their own world of thoughts, or emotions, and daydream. The second type are those who enjoy being non-conformist and marching to the beat of their own drum. The third type are the ones who lack self-esteem and therefore think, “I can never do it anyway…”

Your son may be in one of these categories, and therefore it is questionable if his not being allowed to go on the ski trip will help him “learn his lesson,” as his teacher would like to see.

Your son’s Rebbi may feel that other classmates will complain that it is not fair if your son gets to go on the trip, as he didn’t work as hard as they did. After all, he doesn’t actually have the right amount of points.

One way to circumvent this problem is to request that school principal discuss a possible alternative solution with the Rebbi, and possibly have your son do something to make up the points — by doing something unique that no other student will do (or particularly wants to do). Boring, non-desirable jobs can be given to your son for a few days after school to make up his needed points.

Since your son did not have the para that he needed for the first month, and it is a special-ed school, flexibility is needed. He clearly did not “learn” from being left out of a trip in the past, as the combination of a medication that is working and a Rebbi that is very skilled is really causing his great improvement.

Your concerns that he might begin to misbehave again are well founded. I would go to your son’s principal and try to work out some kind of system to allow your son to participate in the trip.

If this does not work out, you will still gain by your son seeing that you are a parent who is his advocate! B’hatzlachah!