Restless Boys in School: Attentional Issues or Boredom?

A friend called the other day to ask my opinion. Her son is in grade two and the boy’s teacher wants him tested for attentional issues. I asked what the teacher was concerned about. It seems that the boy will only pay attention if the teacher is standing right by him. The boy is supposed to sit up by the teacher, but he always finds some reason to sit as far away from the teacher as possible. In addition, the teacher says that the boy is not reading at grade level, in fact, the school is worried that the boy really isn’t reading at all.

bored boy in classroom
image credit: stockbyte

What is fascinating about this is that last week when I dropped by to give my friend something, I saw her son stretched out on the floor looking at a book about Egyptian mummies. My friend and I talked for some time and her son never left the book nor seem distracted by our conversation in any way. Not only that, he got up after a while and showed me something in the book that he found very interesting. He needed my help with one word, but he was reading the captions under the pictures. After we talked about mummies for a while, he went back to the floor and continued reading the book. True, this subject is a new passion of his and I am sure he has had someone read the book to him several times, but he was reading and focusing on the subject.

This is not a boy who has attentional issues or cannot read. This is a boy who finds school work boring and will only pay attention when he is pressured to do so. I understand that it is difficult to find the spark that will turn on every child, but this is a child who is not enjoying school, who finds school work tedious, and who is slipping through the cracks.

Why is this little boy not interested in school? I have no specific insight into that problem, but much of what happens in school is not interesting to boys. They don’t like to sit still, their verbal skills come along a bit more slowly than those of girls, and they are more interested in paying attention to events and pictures than they are for words or conversation.

I suggested that she find a boy about 12 to 14 years old to come and play with her son. This boy will read to her son and play mathematics and reading games with the boy. That will give the young boy the understanding that school will get better and that boys can do well in school. The two boys might play chess and yes, a child of 7 or 8 is old enough to learn the basics of the game. The older boy may take the younger boy on a nature walk, pointing out interesting trees, bushes, or animals in the immediate neighborhood. The older boy can read to the younger boy and vice versa. The point is to help the younger child get the understanding that school requires a little self-discipline so make sure that the boy you invite to play with your son has a good work ethic. The older boy does not have to be a stellar student, just someone who likes learning about a wide variety of subjects.

The other possibility is to find out what the boy is interested in doing. If he has no idea, then he has not been exposed to a variety of opportunities. Does he like to dig? Perhaps an older gardener in the child’ area might like an apprentice. Is he interested in building things? Someone who works with wood may be willing to help the boy learn to use a hammer and saw. A shade tree mechanic usually attracts a lot of young boys who are interested in seeing how an engine works. Do not think that a boy of 7 or 8 is too young to learn a skill or to be interested in learning. Lifetime interests start early so make sure that boys have the opportunity to learn about the world around them. This is the attraction of scouting – adults sharing their skills with boys.

How is this going to help the boy in school? If the adult who is working with the boy points out that math is required to measure properly, or reading is required to figure out how to install a part, the boy may be a bit more motivated to acquire that knowledge. Boys learn when they are excited about the task and you cannot predict what will interest a boy. I was astounded at my friend’s son who was interested in mummies. His mother said that the interest started because his older sister was disgusted by the topic. That interested the boy, of course.

Find something for the boy to do, that will pay off in the end even if it doesn’t translate to school work. A boy with a skill is likely to stay busy and not waste time, that keeps him focused later on and that is a good thing.