Stuff Nicholas Says, Vol. 8

Preppy Nico

On Opera

“My opera can almost break the windows, mama. Listen.”


On Bedtime

“Mama, at what thirty-o’clock do we have to go to bed tonight?”


On fisherman sandals

“Mama, remember when I had sandals like in Jesus’ time? I actually liked those, you know why? They needed to be only 5 more inches to be Jesus’ size.”


On appetites

“Mikey said he was going to get a $5 footlong and that he was going to eat it all and he did! He ate it like he was launching a canon.”


On focusing

“It’s just that, mama, it’s just that I was trying to focus in music but Matthew got up and was walking around so he was astracting me. And sometimes my brain, when I am trying to focus, says, ‘Hey! Look over there!’ when I should be looking over here.”


On his two front teeth



Any tips (books, websites, etc.) on helping Nico with paying attention and sitting quietly for times when it’s needed, like class and choir? He’s not hyperactive, doesn’t need medication. He’s just a big, squishy heart of a boy with a joyful personality. I don’t want to tamp down his spirit or change who he is, but he does need to be respectful in class. The teachers all think he is adorable and cute, but will they think he’s adorable and cute and let him get away with murder in the 6th grade? I read that extra physical activity can get the wiggles out, so he’ll be joining the swim team this fall.

Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. says

    Extra physical activity is a good place to start. My mother was a lower (1st and 2nd) elementary teacher for 35 years and I remember her telling me that she had certain students that she would sit towards the back of the room, that way if they felt the need to pace while others were working on their assignments, they could do so without disturbing the class. This allowed them to burn off a little energy as they needed it, and helped them focus a little better when they had to sit still during instruction.

  2. Emma says

    Try getting him one of the seat cushions that looks like a flat version of an exercise ball. It allows him to wiggle a bit even when seated , and he can bring it from class to class.

    • Jeanne says

      Highly recommend this, esp. good for the sitting that kids do gathered around the teacher in lower grades. My daughter used it for a week, and then the teacher gave it back–wasn’t needed. I think it helped “train” her to sit still for awhile. Got it from an OT.

    • says

      This was recommended for one of my boys, too (he was getting occupational therapy). It helped him sort of get the stimulation he needed without talking to other kids, etc. BTW, we’re now dealing with a similar phenomenon with boy #2. I’m pretty sure he’s got an ADD diagnosis coming.

  3. April says

    I’ve thought this before, but he sounds just like me when I was a kid. Only he can explain his thought process much more eloquently than I could then.

    I have mild ADD. I can function as is, but it definitely has a strong influence over how I live my life. I suggest skipping the meds but consider applying other ADD-specific advice to his life. There are lots of helpful Web sites and free resources out there, as well as books, that might help/give pertinent advice.

    An example from my life is only owning black or white socks, all the same style and brand, and storing them loose (vs paired up) in my drawer. Cutting out unnecessary steps (sorting, pairing, folding, buying replacements one at a time vs en masse) makes it easier for me to get the task (laundry) done. Eliminates loner socks that linger in the laundry room, too.

    Obviously that is a tip not applicable to his school life, but you should be able to find stuff that (through trial and error) will make it easier to “stay in line,” so to speak.

  4. says

    Your kids are a kick! Well, my son doesn’t have trouble staying in his seat in class (but at the dinner table? it’s a different story), but his lack of focus is unbelievable. (He’s almost eight.) I’ve talked to his teachers, and they assured me that it was pretty run of the mill at his age, to the point where they were almost surprised I was concerned. Okay! From the sound of it, they don’t care how cute you are once you get to about the 3rd grade; the expectations are ramped up, and the kids are supposedly better able to comply.
    Not helpful information, I know, but it made me feel a little better and hope it does the same for you.

  5. Fleur Deschamps says

    Changes in a child’s diet can help, so maybe you could look into this. Your children probably eat very health food, but it is a fact that industrial foods and drinks can make children more fidgety and nervous.

    And it’s hard to avoid them when they are so popular with kids. As a teacher and a mother I’ve always advised children to ask their parents for healthy snacks instead of industrial treats, and to avoid cola drinks because of all the caffeine and chemicals in them. There are also healthy foods which can help a child or adult relax.

    Lots of outdoors activities also help a lot.

    But it is also the educational system that needs to be improved and adapted to the age of kids. At your son’s age, most children have a short attention span (it’s totally normal and natural), so classrooms activities need to be divided in 15mn parts (more or less) so that children are able to focus on each task or activity and not lose focus all the time. They don’t have time to get bored either, which often happens with very smart kids who finish their tasks early. These kids are often happy if they are allowed to quietly help slower students, it makes them feel useful and responsible. But all teachers don’t allow this, unfortunately.
    And sometimes it can be the teacher’s fault when students constantly misbehave in class, in which case it’s totally unfair to medicate children just because they get carried away due to the lack of discipline and interest during those classes.

    About the thousands of American kids who are forced to take Ritalin and other meds, it is very upsetting! Just because the teachers are too lazy to adapt themselves to their young students’ needs, they blame solely the kids and send the parents on guilt trips saying their kids need medication if they want to stay in that school. And a lot of parents unfortunately don’t want to take the trouble to work with their kids on the ‘problem’ – or they don’t have time, or they don’t know how to do it.

    Last, sometimes a child wants to draw attention… but doesn’t know how to do it in a respectful way, or at the right moment. These children need to be taught gently how to draw attention in good ways, in a nice way that the teacher and the other students will appreciate. They will be happy to learn tips on how to be active in the classroom in a way that will make them look and feel good, instead of mischievous or trouble makers; most children feel great and happy when they see that they contribute to the lessons and classes in a positive way.

    Usually children with lots of energy in the classroom can learn how to use their energy in a positive and useful way that will make everyone happy: themselves, the teachers and the parents…
    It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes patience and encouragements, but it is so wonderful when children can be proud of themselves, and feel how proud their teachers and parents are of them too.

    Kids will always be kids so if they misbehave once in a while in class, it is human and they should be forgiven, if they understand that what they did was wrong and WHY it was wrong. I see a lot of children labeled as trouble makers or useless, bright little kids who end up behaving like this because they are MADE to feel they can do no better. They have lost their self-confidence and self-esteem…
    Once we show them we believe in them, they do try to behave better in class.

    Well this was just a general opinion. Jules, your sons are marvelous little boys, they seem to have very good manners and I am sure they will always make you very proud! :)

  6. Jeanne says

    Hi Jules, I have a daughter who was like Nico. Teachers loved her for many good attributes but she was/is mildly ADD and it presented challenges. We resisted meds until 6th grade and it made a huge difference. In the meantime, tips that worked were a lot of candid conversation with teachers; asking the principal every year to put my child in the “right class”. School principals don’t want parents to think they are going to request teachers, so the better approach is the one I described-here is what my child is like. . .please place her with the teacher best suited to handle her in a way that she will thrive. My pediatrician gave me the best verbage when she was entering first grade—“she needs a class with a lot of structure, but a teacher that will give her a break”. I used that line with the principal after kindergarten and attributed it to the doctor and I got the BEST first grade teacher. Totally awesome woman who just retired and was probably best teacher in the whole school. Every year I revisited the subject as soon as school was out, making an appt with the principal. It paid off. In the younger grades, the teachers had her be the kid who delivered any messages, so she could get up and move. Front of the class seating is also very good. I will e-mail you later. This has been a journey for us, and I have learned a lot.

  7. says

    It is possible to have ADHD without the H (so Attention Deficit Disorder instead of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. My own kid has the H. I think I have it without the H. We are unmedicated.) Much of the “learn to focus” stuff is about giving them a focus for the wiggles. Two common accomodations you see in schools are chewing gum (yes, in school) and having one of those squeezy squishy balls that you use to work out your forearm.

    We’ve moved around too much in the past few years for organized sports, but I do sign my kid up for tae kwon do and swimming, and I try to build in a lot of physical activity into each day. ADHD/ADD is partly caused by a lack of production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, and exercise naturally causes the brain to produce more of those, which in turn builds ability to focus. Also, tae kwon do (or any other karate-type sport) has a huge focus on self-control, so its a good tool for exercise plus reinforcing crap I say all day long, but its the cool karate instructor and his peers that are saying it instead of me.

    Summer can be difficult for the kid with attention problems. In school you have an all day long, highly structured environment with authority figures reinforcing the need to focus, but during the summer, there is little need to practice focusing…and I find that focusing ability goes wayyy down in the summer.

  8. says

    I am with Fleur all the way, but: The reality is that many teachers cannot teach in the ways she advocates (for all kinds of reasons; I’m not teacher-bashing with this comment). And: There will come a time (based on my experience, middle school) when it will not matter to those educators that the problem lies within the system. They will point to the children who struggle within it, no matter how bright/charming they are, and say that their job is to learn to conform. Actually, I believe they say this more about children who are bright; there is a feeling that kids who are so smart should be able to succeed regardless and a lack of understanding that failing to meet their needs can be as problematic as failing to meet the needs of those who have learning disabilities. (And it can be even harder for them to see disabilities in bright students because they are often able to compensate for them.) I focused my attention on advocating for change (it’s what I do professionally, it’s how I’m built, I couldn’t NOT do it), but I wish I’d given more to teaching my child how to cope with what is. I’ve learned the hard way that being right can be so terribly beside the point.

  9. Elyse says

    I’ve heard about very weak tea mixed with milk – to the point of being tea-flavored milk – and about ensuring a good amount of sleep. My kid’s four weeks old, though, so I can’t speak from experience. As a teacher, I can absolutely vouch for coping skills and teacher-parent communication. I’ve had kids write stuff down instead of calling it out, or stand instead of sit, or take on advanced work.

  10. Fairfax Avenue says

    Many years ago, we had guests in the house for several weeks. The parents were former military people and very fond of coffee. The fact that they were former military people wasn’t lost on my impressionable children, so the children insisted on drinking coffee like our guests. I am of the generation that was taught “coffee stunts your growth”. So I visited the pediatrician who blew that idea right out of the water. (I am getting somewhere with this.) So I gave my children permission to have three cups of coffee a week…the oldest was maybe twelve or thirteen at the time.

    Later on, I worked closely with the mother of a bunch of challenging children – only one was more so than the others – from preschool he couldn’t cope with a regular classroom environment, but this mother (and father) persevered, and this son just graduated high school with his class. The point is, working in an office with this mother was a great education for me.

    One thing she taught me: coffee can be good for kids who need to learn to focus better. Coffee is hot on cold mornings, legal, unrestricted and doesn’t stunt the growth (my four sons are all over six feet tall). Jules – you can create your own scientific experiment if you want – and Nico might like coffee, even if he takes it with milk and a bit of sugar!

  11. Susan G says

    I have absolutely nothing of value to contribute to help you, but man am I happy this child is in the world – and that he has a mother who both appreciates him and wants to help him succeed. Two big wins!

  12. Jennifer says

    Robert had ADD (no H) and we struggle with it. So no advice there.
    But I did want to mention that Nico is fabulously, unbelievably cute.

  13. Bethany says

    I’ve heard a heavy blanket across the legs can help. It provides a low level of stimulus, much like the bosu saucers people are talking about above. Bam! Google backs me up: Sorry my child is only 4mo–it reminds me of swaddling or wearing her in a wrap, but I don’t have more proof. Also analogous to the old law school trick of belting your leg to the chair until you’re done studying. :-)

    • says

      A strip of velcro in a discrete area of his desk (like the underneath side) can offer him another unobtrusive way to get that stimulus without disturbing the class. It is just the rough side and he can rub his finger across it while doing his work. Seems to help those busy brains stay put here rather than there in order to make it through desk work.

  14. says

    My son is super sweet, but when he has trouble listening to me and playing in a self-controlled way, it’s after I gave him food or candy with artificial colors. When I avoid the artificial colors, it is a lot easier for him.

  15. HeatherL says

    Aww, love the Dominator of Toofs! I have never been diagnosed with ADD, but I relate to a lot of the symptoms, both now & reflecting on my childhood. I wasn’t hyperactive & did well in school, so I don’t think anyone noticed, but it took me forever to do homework (there are SO many interesting words in the dictionary that would distract me on the way to looking up the 20 on the vocabulary assignment. ) I was once flagged for a dramatic drop in math standardized test score, but once I took the test (just that part) in the school psychologist’s office, I did well and was put back int he gifted program. I even realized at the time that I was bored with the first test by the time we got to the math section.

    Anyway, as an adult, I realized that I still have some of these issues, and whether it is officially ADD or not, (I never pursued diagnosis as an adult) I find using techniques aimed at people with ADD is helpful. I find helpful– I look for work related tips, but there is a section on kids too.

  16. says

    Nico is growing-up! He still amazing cute, and definitely the Dominator of Toofs (and hearts!). How far are you from school or choir? Is it possible to walk or ride bikes?
    You could start a walking school bus for school. This is Canadian, but there must be plenty of American ones
    If Kimmy, Jimmy or Bobby-Sue are distracting, then it is near impossible to not look, right? If Nico’s allowed to talk, then he can say to them that they are distracting him (this might not be possible). Close his eyes, listen to the teacher/sing the music, when he sees someone or is distracted. Think about the music, when he’s ready to open his eyes, make sure to look at the choir leader and/or teacher. I’m a big fan of breathing techniques, exercise, eating well and sleeping enough. Before entering the class, get the giggles and jiggles out, get there early, run around, go to the bathroom, wash hands, take one minute/30 seconds/10 seconds before going into the class. Slow the rush down.
    Anyhow, we’ll just have to see how this goes. He’s sugar and delight, and lovely. He’s a little boy full of energy and love.

  17. says

    I think you all eat pretty healthy, but it is very possible he has a gluten or dairy allergy. Also, as others have suggested, it’s been well documented that food dyes cause all sorts of hyperactivity problems. Trying to get him off sugar would also likely help, but that’s probably super hard. (completely off sugar, not sugar free items w fake sugars).

    a naturopath or holistic doctor would be able to help better than an MD who will likely tell you just to stifle him & put him on.medication.

    but, like most ppl here have said, he’s a bright, lovely, charismatic young boy, and this is quite typical for children his age! :)

  18. Maria says

    My mother in law who worked in this field suggests to give him walnut oil (out of natural walnuts). It’s basically nuts squashed together. This is supposed to help with concentration. Like, give every day with some bread, on his plate over the salad, over some diced feta cheese… it’s delicious.

    The other thing I would suggest is similar to what Jenn says, teach him the skill of letting things pass. Like, not shutting down the distractions with music etc, because they get more powerful, but to learn how to not react. Probably quite something to ask of an 8 year old but it’s worth a try and it’s a skill that will have to be learned at some point :)

  19. Christine says

    Hi Jules, Thank you for the time and energy you devote to your blog. I enjoy reading it.

    As for Nico’s trouble focusing….having opportunities for sensory breaks throughout the day may help him to increase his attention span. These breaks can be fine and gross motor. They should not be disruptive to other students and will not take time out of his academic day. I teach Kindergarten and use sensory activities continually. If you want more details, feel free to email me.

  20. Erin (@mrs_danderfluff) says

    I’ve had lots of ADD kids over the years, and I’ve tried a lot of different strategies in my classroom to help kids focus. I find it helpful to brainstorm a bit with the kid and allow him to have input– that way he feels empowered to actively help himself, rather than just being the passive recipient of whatever strategies I decide to try. This also helps them to not view the interventions (like moving to an isolated desk) as punishments. Some of the most helpful strategies I’ve found are:

    1. Tactile stimulation (Velcro under the desk, weighted vests, heavy book on the lap)
    2. Muscle engagement (the rocking seat cushion mentioned above, or sitting on an exercise ball; allowing the student to stand at his/her desk; stress ball squeezing; chewing on a “chew toy” made specifically for such purpose)
    3. De-escalating sensory input [for independent working] (noise canceling headphones, privacy shields, creating a closed off working area within the room, putting a desk just outside the classroom door in the hallway)

    The big thing is to teach the kid to create his own coping mechanisms by identifying when his focus is starting to slip and then going through a step by step process to manage it. I also worked out secret signals with my kids so I could give them permission to get out their stress ball, move to an isolated desk, etc, without having to stop my lesson. For example, my little Ben and I worked out a plan that went like this:

    “When I notice that I’m having trouble paying attention during class, I will wait for Mrs. H to look at me, and then I will tug on my earlobe. When she nods at me, that means I may get out my stress ball. If I’m still having trouble, I will tug my ear again to get permission to stand at my desk. [His desk was positioned so this wouldn’t bother anyone else.] If I’d like to try moving to the isolation desk [I had a nicer sounding name for it], I will silently point to the desk and wait for her to nod.”

    Of course, some days were just tough days, so I would find a job for him to do that would let him leave the room for a very short period (deliver a note, fill up my water bottle, drop something off at the lost & found) so he could have a break. If he missed something important, I’d find a time to go over it one-on-one later.

  21. Emily says

    I think it’s very good that he can analyze himself. If he can do that and not get down on himself, he’ll be just fine. Exercise is good too.

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