Having Discipline Problems?

carousel - Emergency personnel hand up pieces of debris that were found in the Hudson River as seen from Hoboken, N.J., Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009. Police boats on Sunday circled the wreckage of a submerged tourist helicopter as investigators resumed their search for debris and missing bodies from the helicopter and a small plane that collided in midair, raining wreckage down on the New Jersey waterfront and into the Hudson River. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
Family and Adolescence Counselor Mike Riera answers questions emailed by Saturday Early Show viewers. This time around, he has advice for helping a boy who has a short attention span, and his school wants to test him for attention deficit disorder (ADD).

Riera also weighs in on what to do about a teen-age driver who has become irresponsible now that he owns his first set of wheels.

The first letter reads:

"Dear Mike,

My 10-year-old son has trouble keeping his mind on task. The school wants to explore attention deficit disorder, but most professionals who know him agree with me that he is not ADD. He is immature and naïve. He's a good reader but has a math tutor who says his attention wanders. What activities will help him develop his attention span?"

Reminds me of Lake Wobegon: "Where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average."

Let him be a kid, which means having certain strengths right next to some glaring weaknesses.

Development is not linear. It's not about making him perfect, but helping him to explore and play in the world around him.

He has to have many failures -- or at least not glowing successes -- to develop real character.

If the math tutoring doesn't seem to be going too well, replace the math tutor with one who helps him develop strategies for learning and staying focused.

If he's game, look into a martial arts program, as there is much anecdotal evidence that this helps with concentration and focus, especially in kids with ADD. Just be sure it's a place that focuses on the overall person, not winning and losing.

Finally, it has to do with maturation, which is typical of boys. The difficulty is that he is so bright, but still, if the maturation lags you may consider keeping him back either before he moves up to middle school or before high school. But I would only recommend this if things get worse and it bothers him.

There is not a test, per se, to determine if a child has ADD. A trained professional instead makes an assessment to see if the child fits the ADD description by gathering information from the teachers and seeing if it matches the criteria.

It never hurts to do the assessment because it gives you information about how the child learns.

The second letter reads:

"Dear Mike,

We bought my son a car this summer, and now I regret it. He often abuses the privilege. He comes home late on the weekends, and his grades are not great. I think I should take away the car completely, but I don't want to alienate him."

It's never too late to correct a mistake; this is part of being the parent first, not the friend first. With that said, your corrective measure (taking the car away) should be considered but can't be too abrupt either -- you want him to see it coming.

Sit down with him later today. Briefly outline what has happened since he got the car -- not too much since it's useless to argue over history. Then go from there.

What kinds of consequences make sense in a situation like this?

You always want consequences to be as natural as possible; in this case, that would involve taking the car away for periods of time.

When you talk with him, focus on the future and be specific: If X, Y, and Z happen, we'll take the car away for a month. Then if things haven't improved, we'll keep it for another month.

Bottom line, though: Look in the mirror and make sure that you'll enforce the consequences when he messes up. If you won't, then you have to live with the current situation, which isn't good for either of you.