Dear ADDitude

Dear ADDitude: Can They Really Take Away Recess as Punishment?

“My son recently got two days of in-school detention for fighting over a pencil, which meant lost recess today. He came home very moody and whiney, obviously emotionally distraught. I feel taking away two days of recess is ridiculous. How do I talk to his teacher?”

ADDitude Answers

It is hard for a parent to see a child being punished. In this case, your son was fighting, which results in a justified detention. While I believe detention is usually an appropriate punishment, in-school detentions are difficult, especially for children with ADHD. Having to sit still in a classroom for an entire day without recess is almost impossible for children who are hyperactive or fidgety; many studies have shown that “taking away recess is counterproductive.”

Perhaps you want to speak with the principal or teacher and ask if your son can serve detentions after school rather than during the school day. Another option is to request that in-school suspensions be limited to half-days and that recess not be taken away.

Posted by Eileen Bailey
Freelance writer, author specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and autism


While I don’t agree with kids getting punished for behaviors relating directly to ADHD or any disability for that matter, I do feel that there needs to be some punishment for fighting at school. However, taking away recess should not be that punishment – check out this post titled “Denying My Son Recess” for more information on why that is, and next steps you and your family could take.

[Quiz: How Well Do You Know Special-Ed Law?]

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

Send this article to your school that describes how exercise improves school performance for kids with ADHD. Also, does your child have a 504 Plan or IEP? It can be made a part of his plan that recess cannot be taken away and that he even gets “movement breaks” more frequently (which he probably needs).
Good luck!

Posted by Coach D


A Reader Answers

I am an ADHD coach, as well as the mother of a son with ADHD. When my son was in third through fifth grade, recess was frequently taken from him because he wouldn’t (couldn’t) sit still during class meetings. I was appalled and confronted the teacher immediately. I explained to her how he needs more physical movement than even recess provides and how taking away his one outlet was counterproductive.

I offered her suggestions, such as letting my son stand up in the back of the class so he could fidget all he needed to without punishment or disrupting the class. When he couldn’t stay focused during classwork time, I suggested he be allowed to shoot some hoops, which was just outside the classroom. He often just needed a few minutes for this and he could go back in and get his work done again.

Posted by JuliShulem

[Quiet Ways for Fidgety Kids to Release Energy at School]

A Reader Answers

If you don’t have an IEP, cut your kid’s teacher some slack and go speak to them. When you do, remember that the teacher is probably not as familiar with managing ADHD as you are. Start on an appreciative note by acknowledging the hard work they are putting in with your child and that it is a challenging situation. Then, ask her to be understanding of your child’s needs. Tell her you will also work with him at home on managing his behavior, but stress that he will be much easier to manage if he gets some physical activity during the day. Finally, ask the teacher if she can impose some other consequence.
Maybe that isn’t what you wanted to hear, but I think that will help. Good luck!

Posted by SueH