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Dear ADDitude: How Can We Stop the Violent Outbursts?

“My son has shown some violent and defiant behavior at school. He complains that he is bored, and I suspect that is why he is acting up. How can we make his school routine more engaging?”

ADDitude Answers

I hate to hear that your son is so unhappy. We know that there are almost always underlying reasons for a student’s violent and defiant behavior. When I consult with a school about this kind of behavior, I request an assessment to see if any hidden learning problems are contributing to his “boredom.” One-sixth of gifted students also have learning challenges. I’d ask your son questions like: “Why do you think school is so boring for you?” I’d try to find out if he is bored in all classes, or is it just in one? Is there any specific thing they do in class that is boring? If we know what is boring, then we can make some changes to make school more engaging.

I’d also want to know if your child is taking medication. If he is, I’d ask the teacher to complete a behavior/medication rating scale. As our children reach the teenage years, because of hormonal changes and possible medication tolerance, medication often becomes less effective and must be reassessed. I’ve found that, in middle and high school, ineffective medication levels are one of the most common reasons for acting out in school.

Posted by Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S.
Former educator, school psychologist, and mental health professional with 40 years of experience.

ADDitude Answers

As Dr. Hallowell says in this video, “Boredom is a painful state.” Talk with your son’s teachers and let them know he is feeling extremely bored at times. Ask what quiet activities he can do when he finishes his work. This is a common practice for gifted kids. It can be educational puzzles/brain teasers, computer time, word searches, etc. — whatever interests him and motivates him to participate and complete his work to earn it. If the teacher would allow him to stand up or walk around the room when he’s feeling antsy (or bored) that could help a great deal, too.

Here are some boredom-busting ideas from other parents.

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

A Reader Answers

I went through this with my son and I totally get it. My son’s father and I put him into a behavioral class with a counselor who helped him through the anger, and it worked! Yay! He was in first grade at the time, now he is a happy 16-year-old who can manage his body and his impulsiveness, as well as his personal-space issues.

The place also dealt with autistic children, which I think was beneficial because the counselors there were really well versed in helping children with challenges. I would ask a counselor in your area for names of similar places near you, as it was awesome for us and for our son. Good luck!

Posted by Laughsalot

A Reader Answers

I just listened to Dr. Ross Greene’s seminar on behavior at school. He said to go back to the cause; focus on the causes behind the behavior rather than focusing on the behavior itself. If you solve the cause, the behavior will change. If you only try to fix the behavior, the underlying cause (i.e. the real problem) will still be there and nothing will be truly resolved. (Lots more info here on his website: Lives In the Balance)

Posted by Rai0414

A Reader Answers

Anything an ADHD kid is not interested in is “boring” — this is a very common reality. We talk with our son about the fact that this is part of his ADHD, and he has to learn self-regulation skills to overcome his boredom when faced with things he doesn’t want to do. There are always things we don’t want to do in life. It helps when he is rested, his meds are at an optimal level, and he knows expectations.

Posted by Pdxlaur

A Reader Answers

One very important thing: Immediate consequences are absolutely necessary — but do not use scorn! Your child is aggressive because he can’t control his impulses, not because he is “bad.” The punishment, therefore, should just be logical and consistent (e.g. “The rule is: if you hit, you have to miss.”). You might have to say this for months before your child will eventually be able to stop the impulsive aggression. If you become frustrated with repeated reminders and consequences, please try to remember that his brain is functioning differently, and that while he needs the fair and consistent consequences, he does not deserve any anger.

Scorn or abuse should never be used as a punishment with children. Do what needs to be done, but trust your child and understand that they aren’t doing it on purpose.

Posted by befree