Retention: Fighting the Good Fight Against Holding Kids Back (or how I learned to stop worrying and love RtI)

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Parents have to choose their battles wisely. That repetitive math homework that seemed a little pointless? Ignore it. The writing assignment that seemed at least B+ worthy, but got a C? Let it go. But if in-grade retention is being discussed for your child, it is time to roll up your sleeves and fight the good fight!

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A great writer would never begin a piece with a cliché, so I beg your forgiveness in saying that in-grade retention is the epitome of Einstein’s overused definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Yet every year, students like Jesse, a second grader who struggles with reading, will do, “the same thing over,” and repeat the same grade while watching his classmates move to third grade. This traumatic event leaves Jesse feeling like a failure and his parents broken-hearted while people such as your humble narrator wonder, “Why do we keep doing this to our children?”

Even more maddening than the obvious “insanity” component is the fact that in-grade retention is an extremely well researched practice, and the research overwhelmingly concludes that holding kids back is not an effective intervention for students who are struggling at school. I would challenge anyone reading these words, especially parents or educators who are considering retaining a child, to google “in-grade retention research,” and see for yourself. (To jumpstart your search, here is a helpful article describing much of the research from the 70s to the mid-2000s.)

Digging into the treasure-trove of research, here is what you will find: Kids who are retained (who, by the way, are disproportionally black children and boys), may appear to show gains in their first couple of years after the retention, but after 2-3 years, their gains level off and they achieve at similar levels to students who also struggled but were promoted. The true differences between the retained child vs. the promoted child, however, are found within the negative byproducts that research shows retained children receive such as significantly increased risks of dropping-out of school, future drug and alcohol use, poor attitudes towards school, as well as difficulties with self-esteem and emotional issues.

To be clear, this article is not a call for “social promotion,” which is also an ineffective practice. Students should not be blindly moved grade-to-grade while their deficiencies are ignored. This is a call to eliminate the ineffective practice of in-grade retention and replace it with promotion that meets children where they are developmentally and academically. This may sound idealistic, but there is actually a vehicle in place already designed to facilitate such a practice: Response to Intervention (RtI) / Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS).

If your school is utilizing RtI / MTSS correctly, a child who is performing below grade level should be promoted to the next grade where he will receive either Tier 2 (increased remedial instruction) or Tier 3 (intensive, individualized instruction) in the area(s) of need. If retention is an option being discussed and RtI / MTSS interventions are not a frequent topic of conversation in your conferences, that school has a serious problem on their hands that might need to be corrected at a higher level.

If your child is at-risk of becoming a victim of the damaging practice of retention, arm yourself with research and alternatives. Fight the good fight! See below for a couple more resources to help inform as well as provide you with strategies for fighting retention:

10 Strategies to Fight Mandatory Retention

Retention and Social Promotion Discussion


Matthew Wiggins, Ed.S
Licensed School Psychologist

WTH is MTSS?: A Jargon Free Explanation for Parents

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WTH is MTSSIt’s ok. Many school, district, and state leaders are confused about it too. Or at least the way they communicate about the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) with parents would suggest that. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of MTSS in meetings and trainings with various school districts in the Sunshine State over the past several years and have come to the conclusion that:
MTSS, philosophically, is a very GOOD thing for our kids that, when truly understood and implemented, can reap some very positive results.


Even districts that implement MTSS effectively have difficulty articulating what it is to parents.

With that, your friendly neighborhood school psychologist will try to do what others haven’t: make MTSS make sense.

So what is MTSS?
MTSS is a way of doing things within the school that impacts every single student enrolled and is designed to make sure no one “falls through the cracks.” It is not a program. It is not a process. It is not anything that anyone can be “put in.” MTSS is a philosophy that considers all learners to make sure all students are getting the instruction needed and are making adequate growth. There are three tiers of instruction, and your child is in (at least) one of them.

Tier 1: The General Curriculum (100% of students)
No need to overcomplicate this. Every single student receives the core, or Tier 1, instruction. Schools use various curriculums (i.e., Treasures for reading, Go Math! for mathematics, etc.) as a means for presenting that core instruction. It is expected that at least 80% of our students will make adequate progress with this core instruction. Simple so far, isn’t it?

Tier 2: Students Who Struggle Get More Support (15%-20% of students)
If 80% of our kids are making adequate progress with the core instruction, that means that 20% are not gaining enough, so Tier 2 exists to support these students. Many schools provide Tier 2 support in groups of four or five students working with a teacher each day using a program in a given subject in addition to the core Tier 1 instruction. Other schools provide Tier 2 with computer programs in labs. Regardless of the method, it is expected that the majority of those students getting Tier 2 support will make adequate progress.

Tier 3: Intensive Instruction (5% of students)

When students are getting the core instruction (Tier 1), frequent instruction beyond that (Tier 2), and are still not making gains, MTSS calls for an individualized, intense level of instruction (Tier 3); there should be no more that 5% of the general student population needing this level of support. Diagnostic assessments are given to pinpoint why students are not learning and create a plan for how to intervene. This support, when provided appropriately, must be in a setting that is no larger than a one-to-three teacher to student ratio; one-to-one instruction is ideal when possible.

It is vital that in Tier 3, the teaching be specific to the student need. For instance, if a child is weak in reading and the diagnostic shows that he has excellent phonics skills but has a poor vocabulary, vocabulary should be the focus of this level of instruction.

If Tier 3 Is Not Successful: Psychoeducational Evaluations / ESE Testing

If a child is still not making adequate progress despite intensive, individualized amount support, it is likely that an evaluation is warranted to determine if there is a learning disability, intellectual disability, language impairment, or other condition that is preventing the student from making progress. If an evaluation is requested, schools should adjust the instruction further and continue with an intensive level of support while waiting for the evaluation to be completed.
There are a million nooks-and-crannies (which you can explore here) that go into what those three tiers of MTSS. School improvement, behavior management, and curriculum evaluation are part of that. They are details for the professionals you entrust your children with to sort through. But when you get down to what MTSS really is, it is just a way of doing things to make sure all children are being taught at their level so everyone can grow and have their needs met.

Is Your Child’s School Using MTSS Effectively? If So, Then…

  • They are monitoring your child’s progress in every tier. Just as the instruction gets more intense and specific, so does the progress monitoring (i.e., Tier 2 / small group progress may be monitored monthly, while students receiving Tier 3 / intensive instruction should be monitored at least weekly).
  • They are communicating with you about what tier of support your child is in and showing specific data (yay, line graphs!) that illustrates progress.
  • They are meeting regularly to make sure that the instruction at your child’s school is effective. This means looking at individual classrooms and grades to make sure most students are making gains, and when they are not, analyzing why not (i.e., Is the reading series we use not as good as we hoped? Is Mr. Jones teaching fractions correctly?).
  • Teams are providing your child with help before (and while) any type of testing or ESE services have begun. They will continue providing a high level of support regardless of the outcome of the evaluation.
  • They use the MTSS model in a similar manner to help improve behavior issues at the school as well.

And most importantly…

  • They will NOT allow your child to fall through the cracks!
Matthew Wiggins, Ed.S
Licensed School Psychologist

Why Does the Gifted Testing Process Take So Long?

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Why does gifted take so long“I just wasn’t willing to wait all year for the school to do the testing.” This is the sentiment so many parents express when reaching out to me to test their children for giftedness. Sometimes they make that call due to a disputed score or concerns with a previous test, but 9 times out of 10, it comes down to one issue: Time.

Most psychologists at our public schools are very good at what they do and provide excellent gifted evaluations (though if I may sell myself for a moment, I look A LOT like Superman and exude great charm matched only by my modesty, but I digress). Several factors, most out of the hands of the school’s psychologist, contribute to excessive wait times during “the process” of having a child tested for gifted eligibility.

Schedule Your Gifted Evaluation Today!

So why, specifically, does it takes so long to have that gifted test done at school? Below is a typical (read: no hyperbole needed) timeline of events that illustrate why a gifted evaluation takes so long to be completed.

The Screening Process Begins

November 4 – Ms. Waters requests that her son, Roger, be tested for the gifted program. Before he can be formally tested, she is told, Roger must be screened by the school counselor. Paperwork is signed, Roger is added to “the list,” and the wait begins.

December 15 – The school counselor is able to screen Roger using the KBIT-2, a brief IQ test. Ms. Waters is informed that her son’s KBIT-2 score of 125 has made the cutoff, and he will be given the full gifted evaluation by the school psychologist. Knowing how important the evaluation is for Ms. Waters, the counselor expedites getting paperwork ready to submit to the district so the next stage can begin before the Christmas break.

December 17 – Ms. Waters comes in to sign a consent form to allow Roger to be given the full IQ test. She is informed that the evaluation will take place within 90 school days of this date.

Ticking away. The moments that make up the dull day.

The Evaluation Clock Starts (Officially) Ticking

watchJanuary 4 – When Roger returns to school after the holidays, he is officially on day three of the 90 school days that the evaluation must be completed within. He waits…

February 2 – Groundhog Day. Also, the 23rd school day since consent was signed. Ms. Waters, though eager, patiently waits…

February 22 – After the Rodeo Day Holiday (not a joke in Osceola County! But don’t worry, they make up for it by attending school on President’s Day), Ms. Waters’ calls the school psychologist to inquire when Roger may be evaluated. It is now day 36 towards the 90 day deadline. The psychologist offers genuine sympathy and understanding with Ms. Waters’ growing impatience and assures her that she will work with Roger as soon as she possibly can.

What the school psychologist does not share with Ms. Waters is that since that consent form was signed, she has been juggling two schools, so she is on campus only a day or two each week. Half of her time is spent in mandatory meetings (MTSS / RtI meetings, staffings, district trainings, etc.), and she is fortunate if she gets a full day at one of her schools to devote to testing. She currently has 28 referrals to evaluate other students, most of whom are struggling learners or students with significant behavior problems. For each evaluation she conducts, she writes a psychoeducational report, each of which take several hours to complete. Meetings are then scheduled to discuss the results of each evaluation. Because she is on the district crisis team, she missed two of her regularly scheduled school days last week to provide counseling at a school across the county that had a teacher unexpectedly pass away. Oh, and that scuttlebutt parents had heard about the kindergartener who bit the teacher and had run away from the class several times? That was true, and the school psychologist has been instructed to bump that youngster to the top of her evaluation list for safety reasons.

March 11 – Day 50. Still waiting…

March 14-18 – Spring Break.

April 15 – Day 70. Still waiting…

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking.

Evaluation Day!

April 28 – After a week of FSA testing, and on the 78th day after having signed consent, Ms. Waters brilliant son is finally tested! The next day, an excited Ms. Waters calls the school psychologist to ask how Roger did. She is informed that the results cannot be shared at that time, but once the report is written, they will schedule a meeting to discuss the results and all program options.

May 6 – Day 84. The school psychologist completes Roger’s report and submits it for processing at the district office, six days ahead of the 90th day deadline.

May 11 – Roger’s school receives the processed report with his gifted evaluation results from the district office. Ms. Waters is contacted to set up a meeting to discuss the results. The meeting will need to be scheduled for the last week of May due to the large number of ESE meetings that are required to take place before summer vacation.

The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older.

Evaluation Results

May 26 – Finally, the meeting to discuss Roger’s testing results takes place, and with his RIAS IQ of 134, he officially qualifies for the gifted program. His services will begin next year.

June 9 – School lets out for summer break.

The time is gone. The song is over. Thought I’d something more to say.


So why does it takes so long for a school to test a child like Roger for the gifted program? Well, here you have it. Run this article by your school’s psychologist or counselor and ask how realistic it all sounds and I bet you get at least a wink if not an affirmative grin. Site-based school psychologists or even psychologists who specialize in only gifted testing within districts would drastically speed up the process, so advocating for such things with your local school board and / or legislators may be a worthwhile endeavor to prevent wasted school years like the one Roger experienced. In the meantime, I hear that there are private evaluators out there who can bypass the screening process, administer the full IQ test, and provide results faster than a speeding bullet. Up, up and away!


Matthew Wiggins, Ed.S
Licensed School Psychologist

A Slow Clap Tribute to Florida’s Superintendents

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Clap… Clap… Clap… Clap… Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap! Clap! Clap!

On September 25, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS) released a statement that, in short, recommended that the severely flawed FSA administration from the previous school year not impact students, teachers, and schools. You can read their message for details, but acknowledging that the accountability system school districts adopted is flawed and has fostered a loss of trust amongst the public is a refreshing admission.

And thus, a tribute to Florida’s superintendents:

If I may take issue with one point made in the FADSS statement (and it is my blog, so I may), the assertion that, “direct negative consequences were avoided for the students,” is dubious, especially for those of us on school campuses leading into and during the FSAs. My own two eyes saw children needing to be pulled from classes for medical assistance and counseling with heart palpitations and other anxiety-induced symptoms on test days.

Hours of potential instructional time were lost due to not only the time needed to take the mountains of state tests, but by countless wasted minutes walking children to computer labs for testing only to find that the technology had failed. We’ll wait until things are up and running in a couple of hours. Those of you already sweating and stressed? Just put your heads between your legs and breathe if you feel nauseous. Sorry to drag this out.

And let’s not forget that for months leading up to the test, the unlucky souls recruited to play the arduous role of “school testing coordinator,” usually a dean, counselor, reading coach, or assistant principal, didn’t get to do their actual jobs for the students. The dean will not be available until after the FSA, so we ask that all naughtiness be kept at a minimum. If the testing coordinator was fortunate enough to have some helping hands, it was usually school support staff who suspended their primary responsibilities which included everything from helping overloaded teachers with materials and copies to tutoring struggling learners. Sorry kids. No small groups with Ms. Bliss until the end of April.

So with all due respect, there were plenty of direct negative consequences for students. But I digress.

All in all, the superintendents really do deserve applause. One must have courage and integrity to take heed and change direction when you realize you’ve gotten yourself (and our teachers, school administrators, and especially our poor, poor kiddos) into a bad spot. The statement from the FADSS follows encouraging and brave steps taken last spring by several Florida school districts such as Orange County to scrap the most nonsensical end of year exams the state had pushed because, well, it’s silly to give 6 year olds final exams on any and everything including art and P.E.

Parents and educators alike want more bold moves from decision makers to amend other poorly thought out policies (I’ll personally wash the cars of any superintendents who eliminate the insane practice of mandatory retention. Seriously. Wax too.). Positive change does not come all at once. The recent actions of Florida’s superintendents give hope that perhaps this is a wave building, ready to crest and then break onto the shore. If that is indeed the case, they are worthy of our most sincere acclamation.

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Homeschool Brainstorm Request

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Homeschool Parents 3You realize you guys are AMAZING, right?

Teaching and being Dad to my two beautiful children are by far the most difficult jobs I’ve ever held. And you do both?! Like some kind of hybrid parent-teacher superhero?! Great Hera!

I would like to tap into some of that awesomeness, if I may. In recent months, I have had the pleasure of working with a handful of homeschool families looking at everything from giftedness to autism to learning disorders. Clearly, there is a growing movement of brave, ambitious parents such as yourself homeschooling your kiddos.

So what are you (and other superhero parents like you) in need of? Could you use support in finding ways to build community with other homeschool families? Learning strategies for hands-on teaching? Providing enriched and enhanced instruction for gifted or highly intelligent children? Creating more social opportunities? Help identifying learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, autism, or other exceptionalities?

Those are a few ideas to get you thinking, but I want to hear from YOU!

This is a brainstorm, so there is no such thing as a poor response! Please be open about whatever thoughts this exercise may trigger.

I am constantly collaborating with a variety of professionals such as those working in learning centers to therapists to pediatricians to nutritional advisors. What can I share with them so we are better serving homeschool families?

This is a chance for you to be heard, and I thank you so much for sharing your insights with one of your biggest fans!

Up, up and away!

Matthew Wiggins, Ed.S
Licensed School Psychologist

Summer Social Skills Challenge: Daily Practice for Children with Social Anxiety

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boy-666803_1280Sitting somewhere between the conclusion of the previous school year and the start of next school year, now is a fantastic time to bolster your child’s ability to interact with others. Many children struggle with social anxiety for a variety of reasons ranging from general shyness to low self-esteem to anxiety disorders or autism. Regardless of the cause, providing practice for your child so he or she can become more at-ease and confident when interacting with others is essential to growing socially. With that in mind, your favorite neighborhood school psychologist presents the Summer Social Skills Challenge! Guide your child with a positive, encouraging attitude throughout each of the four steps described below, and prepare yourself for the pride that will fill you with each challenge met!

Step 1: Define the challenge of the day.
Be explicit in doing so. It will increase your child’s comfort level to discuss where the challenge will take place, what your goals are for that particular challenge, and what the interactions will look like.

There are literally hundreds of potential social challenges to be accomplished, but here are a few ideas to get you started. Try at least one each day!

“Today you will…”

  • Greet the greeter at Walmart and ask how her day is going.
  • Initiate a game (i.e., tag, hide-and-seek, etc.) with kids at the playground.
  • Pay the cashier at Publix.
  • Order food at McDonald’s.
  • Share a toy or play item (i.e., slide) at the kids area of the shopping mall.
  • Converse with a movie theater employee about his or her (or even your) favorite film.
  • Inquire about different entrees at Olive Garden.
  • Tell a joke to grandma.
  • Introduce yourself to someone your own age at the park.
  • Give a compliment to someone at church (author’s note: sweet old ladies are quite receptive to this kind of charm).
  • Ask a worker for help finding an item in Target.

girl-851563_1280Step 2: Practice the interaction.
Role play the event before it happens. Take turns within each role, modeling appropriate behavior for each. For instance, you may play the part of the Walmart greeter by sitting in the kitchen. Have your child walk through the hallway to where you are seated, look you in the eye and say, “Good morning.” Be positive with your feedback while also being very specific, providing practice for behaviors that can be improved (i.e., “You did a great job of looking into my eyes while speaking with me! Now let’s practice again, and I want you to try to smile when saying, ‘Good morning.’”). Within these practice sessions, switch roles or include other members of the family so you can model the desired behavior.

A few basic goals to encourage for each interaction:

  • Make eye contact when speaking and listening.
  • Shake hands when meeting someone.
  • Remain at an appropriate distance – about arms length – from the person you are speaking with.
  • Smile!
  • Speak with a friendly tone of voice.
  • Say an appropriate goodbye when the interaction is finished.

Step 3: Go out and try it!
You’ve discussed the challenge and practiced it, now let’s give the real thing a try! There may be some anxiety beforehand, so encouragement and reassurance leading into the challenge are a must.

Step 4: Praise the effort and discuss what went well and what could be improved.
Offer praise, praise, and more praise! Initiating social interactions is not something that comes natural for children with social anxieties, so an overabundance of commendation and expressions of pride are a must for the bravery exhibited! This will help boost your child’s confidence for future interactions. Within your raving, be specific about what went well (i.e., “Wonderful job of telling your new friend your name and asking what his name was when introducing yourself!”). Also feel free to ask your child what he thought could have gone better or been different. Being careful not to discourage, you can specify a point or two to remember for the future. Practice these potential improvements to apply to interactions soon to come.

The best way for people of all ages to improve their social skills is through practice. With half of the summer in front of you (read: the glass is half-full!), take advantage by providing opportunities for your child to successfully meet each daily challenge!

Matthew Wiggins, Ed.S
Licensed School Psychologist

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When Your Gifted Child is Yin to Your Yang: 4 Tips for Supporting the Scattered Gifted Child

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Sitting on the right side of the couch, meet Mother Yang: highly intellectual, neat and tidy, everything organized and categorized, runs her home business like clockwork, a bit of a perfectionist, and is never late for an appointment. To the left we have Kid Yin: highly intellectual, shoes kicked off haphazardly on the floor, several piles of comics, books, electronics, and who-knows-what-else scattered throughout the living room, starts but does not finish things, and understands the complexities of time as a continuum, but managing it to catch the morning bus is onerous.

We all want to relate to, support, and nurture our children, no matter how yang they are to our yin. With this in mind, here are four tips for to help organized parents support their scattered gifted children:

Be part of your child feeling comfortable being herself. Children with superior intelligence, despite their intellectual gifts, often feel different and out of place. Their interests, imagesenses of humor, and the vast places their thoughts travel to are frequently unlike at least 95% of their peers. This leads to many gifted kids being extremely self-conscious, often wishing they could be more “normal” like the other kids. Parents can alleviate such insecurity and breed confidence by acknowledging but also praising differences. For instance, your gifted child may be less of a “concrete thinker” than her parents, but her creativity and ability to think “outside of the box” can (and should!) be celebrated.

Help your child with organization, but avoid over-organizing. When having your child locate a homework assignment in his backpack leads to a heap of crumpled, wrinkly papers (and other childhood debris), it is natural for the tidy parent to snap into action to keep things in order. But what may come naturally to you may be a significant challenge to your gifted child. It makes sense in your mind to have a folder for every subject and a well categorized planner to keep assignments in line. To your child, this may feel impossible or inconsequential or both. A happy medium to avoid over-organizing is having your child keep two folders: one for homework, one for classwork. A simple notebook or calendar to write down assignments will help as well.

Follow your child’s lead and expand on his interests. You love taking family bike rides. He would rather build inside with Lego (a nod to Lego enthusiasts: I’ve heard you loud and clear. No “s” on the end of Lego!). You like Civil War history, but he is delving deep into the differences between various whale species. Your into family TV sitcoms, but he can’t get enough of Dr. Who. Making a conscious effort to show interest in topics that are important to your child, even if that means faking it, is an excellent way to validate how important he is to you. Sit down and let him educate you on a science topic he is becoming fascinated with. Schedule family field trips to museums, science centers, parks, or conventions to share in authentic experiences. Your child will feel important, and your bond will be made stronger despite your differences.

Advocate for your gifted child. Some people will not “get” your child. Many assume “gifted” means “perfect.” Or at least easy to teach at school and raise at home. So when (euphemism alert) misguided folks experience your gifted kid who can’t ever seem to remember to bring his lunchbox or homework to school, spaces out, and isn’t the most mature student out at the playground, you can be a great advocate not just for your child, but for the gifted community. Letting teachers and other parents know that high intelligence often comes with its own challenges will be eye opening to many. Share his challenges with teachers, what has and has not worked in the past, and what your goals are moving forward to help foster a strong parent-school relationship that will help ensure that your child’s teacher really “gets” him.

While you and your gifted child may be complete opposites, keep in mind that yin and yang represent two forces that despite their contrasts, are perfectly complimentary. It’s not easy, but as a caring parent, you will guide you and your child to a place of harmony and balance… that might be a little cluttered.


Matthew Wiggins, Ed.S
Licensed School Psychologist

Tips for Managing an Attention Seeking Child: A Character Case Study of No, David!

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no david behavior help orlando florida

My two year old son’s favorite bedtime stories this summer are from the No, David! series by David Shannon. David is the rambunctious main character in the set whose interests are primarily of the ultra-naughty variety. Evan loves these short stories, and for the sake of full disclosure, he has his share of David-esque behaviors. As a school psychologist, I found it impossible when flipping through No, David! and Shannon’s other books not to ask, “What is driving David’s behavior?” In-depth, scholarly analysis of the picture books led me to a clear conclusion: David craves attention. Need proof? Here are some of his behaviors and what I would imagine a candidly introspective David might explain:

David’s Attention Seeking Behaviors

  • Walking to school in his underpants (“Sure is fun to have Mom playing chase while the kids in the neighborhood laugh with me!”)
  • Eating dog treats (“They don’t taste that bad, and Dad paused the Eagles game to make sure I don’t do it again.”)
  • Releasing a gratuitous, loud burp at the dinner table (“Mom and Dad took a break from talking to each other to speak to me. Plus, I noticed them kinda snickering to each other when they were done giving me the business.”)
  • Making faces during the class photo (“Feels good to make an audience giggle! We’ll get to laugh some more in a few weeks when the pics are developed. Talk about a win win!”)
  • Drawing on his desk at school (“When I draw on my desk, Ms. Nelson always has me stay after school to scrub my desk clean. One-on-one time with the boss! And when I am done cleaning, she gives me a sticker and tells me what a good job I did. Love my sweet teacher!”)

That is just a small sampling of David’s attention seeking exploits. All of us parents or teachers know a “David,” whether he or she is in your class or is your very own offspring (author’s note: I involuntarily raised my hand meekly after typing those last four words.). Here are a few tips to curb those attention seeking behaviors:

Strategies to Curb Attention Seeking Behaviors

  • Practice planned ignoring of the negative behaviors. For instance, if David calls out in class, resist the temptation to scold or shoosh him, as that will only strengthen those behaviors. If his comments are not acknowledged after a few tries, you will see him resort to raising his hand to be heard which leads us to the next strategy…
  • Catch him doing the right thing. When David calls out ten times and you have been strong in not acknowledging that, once his hand goes up, call on him. Add specific praise (i.e., “Thank you for raising your hand.”) so he knows why you gave him that desired attention. At home, it may be a matter of catching and praising David for eating his dinner without turning it into a potato man with string bean arms and chicken legs. This is simply (psychologist-babble alert) differentiating your reinforcement.
  • Provide specific expectations for behaviors and practice them. One of my favorite illustrations in, “No, David!” is David in the bathtub splashing wildly, making a soggy mess of the bathroom. A practice session, done at a time that is not bath time, would help curb this behavior. Start by providing the bath expectations (i.e., always sit in the tub, play and have fun, but keep the water in the tub, etc.). Then practice them with some role-play in a dry tub. When real bath time arrives, remind David of the expectations, and praise him as they are met.
  • Give responsibilities that redirect the negative behaviors into a positive direction. For instance, if David is frequently holding up the class as the last student in from recess, create a position for future play times where David serves to call his classmates in to line up when the period is done. Adding a whistle or bell for David to make that call makes this an even more enticing way to get some attention while complying with the teacher.

And finally…

  • Continue to love your child unconditionally. And make sure he or she knows it! Even when our children, at home or school, drive us to our wits’ end, assuring them that our love and caring never wains goes an immeasurable length towards raising our kids to be secure and confident adults.

Why Kids Act Out for Attention

All children crave attention in one form or another. It is their way of being reassured that they matter and are important to their moms and dads and teachers. And if they do not get that reassurance, our little ones are great at finding devious ways to trigger a reaction from their most loved adults. After all, while being scolded may not feel as good as a hug, it sure beats feeling ignored. But I should stress that having an attention seeking child is not an indictment on (insert your “David’s” name here) parents. Having a new baby in the home, professional demands, or various home stresses can make it difficult to completely fill that cup of desired attention. Our teachers would add that large class sizes or needy rosters contribute to that half-full cup. So when your “David” cranks up his naughtiness to 11, take a deep breath (or a gulp of wine) and remind yourself that it is because your attention is so coveted.

Matthew Wiggins, Ed.S
Licensed School Psychologist

david gets in trouble attention seeking orlando florida

david goes to school psychologist adhd orlando florida No David

The Ballad of Jodi: A Student So Naughty He Might Just Be Gifted

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jodi gifted pin

If looks could kill, I would not have made it out of that conference room. Facing eight frustrated and emotionally exhausted middle school teachers as a first year school psychologist summoned to assist with Jodi, a seventh grade student they were describing as having a penchant for disrespect, condescension, and a lack of regard for the feelings of his peers and teachers, I uttered four dangerous words: “Could he be gifted?”

Leading into the meeting, I had consulted on several occasions with the eight respected colleagues of mine who had no idea of the disdain they would later feel for your humble narrator. Their descriptions of Jodi were perfectly in line with what I observed of the student in the classroom. Jodi would sit in the back of the classroom, feet up on the desk in front of him, gigantic unpacked book bag on the floor to his right, his desktop empty except for when he would occasionally rest his elbows to support the science fiction book his head was perpetually buried in. Classmates would try to engage him and get snide pithy sarcastic responses or silence in return. Teachers received much of the same treatment, with the occasional, “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” comment from Jodi.

Work production was zero. Literally not a name on a paper most days. The previous few years had shown a steady stream of mediocre grades, with scores of mostly C and D, but by grade seven, Jodi was a straight F student. He had about a dozen discipline referrals for the school year with six days of out of school suspension for defiance. He was essentially working his way towards an expulsion for insubordination and his teachers, while at their collective wits’ ends, needed to know: “What is wrong with this kid?” There was a genuine feeling that this child may have an emotional disability and maybe the school psychologist could get Jodi the help he needs rather than have him expelled and jettisoned to the “alternative school.”

Fast forward to the seventh grade teachers’ meeting with the school psychologist. The reaction to my assertion that Jodi might be gifted ranged from disbelieving laughter with head shaking to silent eye rolling that said, “We’re on our own here,” to the red faced rage of a teacher I’ll call Ms. Fierce who taught me a few words that in my youth I could never have imagined teachers actually saying out loud. Their skepticism was understandable. Much of their experience with gifted children in their classrooms was students with straight A grades, creative and motivated children showing off their brilliance on a daily basis. Somehow Jodi’s Fs and lack of production both verbally and on paper didn’t quite fit that common idea of a child who is gifted, nor did his unacceptable behaviors. “Let me test him to rule it out,” I pleaded. “I’ll get it done ASAP, and if nothing else, I’ll see what I can figure out from working with him and we’ll go from there.” The team gave me less than their blessing, but agreed to let me explore my theory. I imagine the conversations that followed as they walked back to their classrooms might have alluded to the “new psych” being crazy or clueless or both.

Consent was obtained from Jodi’s parents, who were sweet and involved folks who were as concerned and frustrated as the child’s teachers. Evaluating Jodi was a fascinating experience. It was obvious from our first few minutes together that he was brilliant. He spoke with an expansive vocabulary forming beautifully eloquent sentences. As rapport was built, Jodi relished in the opportunity to discuss his passion for astrophysics and the latest Stephen Hawking book about black holes, gravitational wave detectors, and various other topics not included in my grad school curriculum. Working through the activities on our WISC-IV IQ test, Jodi continued to impress with an amazing memory, super quick mental processing, an uncanny ability to decode just about any visual pattern you set before him, and of course, those remarkable verbal skills.

When all was said and done, Jodi’s full IQ was an astronomical 156! To put that in perspective (pardon the forthcoming statistical-babble), most of the population has an IQ somewhere between 90 and 109, which is average; 100 is the perfectly average IQ score. The proverbial “gifted” student is two standard deviations (stay with me…) above that 100, which is an IQ of 130. Only 2% of the population is at that level of intelligence. So with Jodi’s IQ of 156, he is nearly two standard deviations above what is considered gifted. In summation, Jodi was much smarter than the smartest of the smart! Imagine the difficulty in relating to peers when you are that far beyond 99.9% of them intellectually. Entering my 15th year in education, my 9th as a school psychologist, Jodi’s IQ remains the highest score I have administered.

Obviously, Jodi’s testing results qualified him for the gifted program. It was determined that he would go to a school that had a full-time gifted curriculum. If this were fiction, I might tell you that Jodi went on to be a straight A student. Truth is, he went on to be a B and C student whose brilliance will always make him a little quirky. I have encountered his parents several times over the years, and while they say Jodi’s improved grades are wonderful, gaining friends who actually “get” him and maintaining relationships with other gifted kids in his program has been the greatest result of his identification. And so, one of my favorite stories to share from my career thus far has a moral: that naughty kid might just be gifted.


Matthew Wiggins, Ed.S
Licensed School Psychologist