Trivia: I know pretty much every word to the Bill Cosby “Himself” performance. I listened to it over and over at my grandparent’s house on their record player when I was a kid, and years later when I was working in a video store, it was the one constantly-entertaining-but-still-PG video I could pop in the deck and let roll on the monitors stationed around the shop.

The entire thing is genius but lately I’ve been thinking about the Brain Damage routine, which, well, if you haven’t seen it, please enjoy:

My god, this is a perfect depiction of our house.

Didn’t I just TELL YOU not to do that?

Uh huh.

What did I just say?

[mumble] You said what for not for to jump onna COUCH.

I’ve said this a hundred times, haven’t I? I said no jumping on the couch, that means I do NOT want to look in there and see you guys jumping on the couch. Do you understand me?

Uh huh.

(2 seconds later)

STOP THAT! WHY ARE YOU JUMPING ON THE COUCH?

*high-pitched chorus* I don’t KNOW!

Everyone knows children’s brains are formed of large chunks of Silly Putty and clouds of easily-distracted bees, but man, sometimes I can’t believe the effort it takes just get someone to carry out ONE directive. I feel like a deranged border collie, nipping and nagging at the heels of my kids in order to herd them towards the thing I’ve asked them to do: “Brush (yap!) your (bark bark!) teeth! Walk to the bathroom (yip!) NOW, and pick UP your toothbrush (nip nip) and—PUT DOWN THE TOY, and (yap!) GO BRUSH YOUR—WHY ARE YOU SITTING THERE AAARRGGGH (bark bark bark *overwhelmed piddle*)”

Anyway, I actually sort of have a serious question for those of you with preschool-aged kids. Is it pretty typical for the 4-5 age range to be, you know, not so great with the focusing skills? Like, I have a friend whose daughter is the same age as Riley and she’s reading entire books and coloring big awesome pictures and, well, in my house everyone’s much more about running pell-mell from one thing to another, and the reading skills are coming along but there is SO MUCH impatience and distraction and NO ONE WANTS TO SIT STILL and every drawing looks like a frenzied tornado because HEY LET’S RIDE BIKES.

I’m kind of exaggerating, but really, I am curious as to what age a person should start expecting and demanding better listening/attention skills from a child, because I really don’t know. I know some kids are naturally more inclined to quiet activities that involve concentration and some just want to fling themselves facefirst off the couch all day long (cough cough cough DYLAN), but when does the Cosby-described brain damage start to recede a bit?

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g~
g~
12 years ago

late 5 early 6 (sometimes later). Boys DO NOT mature as quickly as girls. I have a 6 year old son and a 4 year old daughter and my daughter pays attention and reads better than my son.
He’s WAY more into careening around the house.
And…I love Bill Cosby!
“But I thought *I* was Damnit!”

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

My husband and I LOVE LOVE LOVE this Cosby routine. LOVE. I’m we’ll often be quoting it when we have kids, just trying to explain their behavior.

Jill
12 years ago

HA! This is my life. I, too, look at other kids and their beautiful pictures of flowers and their names written neatly, and them playing memory or Candyland or whatever torturous game is the game of the moment, and I think, dear GOD! I am doomed, as I watch my 4-year-old roll down the stairs and race back up to do it again. My hope? Boys. That is what I am hanging on to. The difference mainly in boys and girls. As a former elementary school teacher, except for the rare, rare few, they even out by about 1st grade. So, here’s hoping…

Tammy
12 years ago

Uh, with boys, never. HAHAHAHA. Seriously, one of my favorite brainless boy stories was from a co-worker of mine with a 13-14 year old boy. One day, I listened to her tell him step-by-step over the phone how to put a frozen lasagna in the oven. And, I do mean STEP by STEP. Apparently the last time he had done it, she told him to turn the oven on and put the lasagna in the oven when it beeped. When she got home, there was the lasagna still wrapped in plastic and all. It never occurred to him to a) read the instructions or b) to remove the PLASTIC wrapper. At 12, I was cooking full-on multi-course meals.

Amanda
12 years ago

I still have to herd my children to the bathroom to brush their teeth. They are 7 and 9.

I wasn’t aware that they learned to pay attention and do things on their own until they have children of their own.

Lylah
12 years ago

Have you seen the movie “Parenthood”? You know the scene where the little girl is estimating the hundreds of dots on the paper and then computing the square root in her head, while her little boy cousin, who is the same age, has a bucket on his head and is deliberatly walking into things?

My youngest kids are just like that. At age 3, my daughter was focused and attentive, and my son is getting his massive noggin stuck between the slats in the fence.

But… they’re both totally normal. Every child is different, but I think there’s a gender difference at work here, too. I think the focus starts to sharpen around age 4 or 5 for many little boys, 3 or 4 for many little girls, with exceptions to both rules, of course.

JennB
JennB
12 years ago

WIth my 5-year-old daughter, she takes one of the following tactics:
– follows instructions to a T
– ignores me completely
– does a half-assed job then starts crying
– argues the merits of NOT doing something that I’ve asked her eleventy-seven and a half times to do.

Or she tells me she’ll do it “in a minute”. So, I wish I knew the answer. God, how I wish I knew.

jetsy
jetsy
12 years ago

Ooh, I’m the first one to comment! My experience is very limited to just a handful of children. Said children are three, four, five, and six (only one is mine). The three year old boy is just as you describe. Completely short attention span theater. The four-year-old girl is a very different story. She concentrates for long periods of time on one book, one painting, one game. But she’s kinda always been like that. The five-year-old boys are twins (god help their parents), and they are apeshit. All the time. Superfragicalisthenic ADHD. The final specimin, the six-year-old girl, cannot follow directions out of a paper bag. She is just as you describe trying to get her to brush her teeth. “No, put down the toy, no, don’t pick up another one, come back here, put that down, now march to the bathroom, no do not pick that up, BATHROOM NOW please, for god’s sake what are you doing, that’s not the way to the bathroom… AAAAHHHHH!”

I guess in conclusion I would say, who knows? Maybe it’s a kid-by-kid difference.

kate
12 years ago

I still have to remind my husband repeatedly to do things, so I’m going to venture a guess that it doesn’t happen for boys until they reach 40.

kalisa
12 years ago

Oh, don’t rush it. He’ll have to sit and be still and focus in school soon enough. And FTR, I still have to herd my teenager like that.

Lola
12 years ago

Like everything (I think) this is just different per kid. I have a son (who’s now 18) who was the PERFECT student in K-PreK. He was quiet, attentive, a quick learner, a total introvert. He loved to read and sit. He had no attention span issues.

I have 2 little ones now (5 year old turning 6 in August almost exactly 1 year older than Riley and a 2 year old turning 3 in May) and they are TOTALLY different than my older son. My 5 year old is in Kinder and she’s a young kindergartener (Aug bday). She’s having a hard time SITTING STILL. The teacher is constantly at her to just SIT. She’s a total extrovert who’d rather be DOING than sitting.

I thought it was just her but then I went to her school during a Christmas party and you’d a thought I walked into a house full of people on crack (ok, sorry if this is offensive to anyone). But SERIOUSLY, those kids are crazy hyper…so it defintely not just her (thank goodness), even though she’s probably still one of the classes’ biggest clowns.

I think, like everything this will come. Remember when you wondered if you were potty training right or if they would ever learn to walk or whatever milestone? This is just another one of those. It will eventually happen.

Redbecca
Redbecca
12 years ago

Mine is a hybrid of the two. Has awesome attention span for THINGS HE IS INTERESTED IN and the rest can go to hell.
Has school or daycare (or whatever) mentioned his behavior at all? Any concerns? If not I wouldn’t worry about it just yet, but you might bring it up with the Ped at the next visit and see what he/she says. Are thoughts of ADHD lurking in your brain? Easy test is caffeine. Does it calm him or wind him up?

Charlise
Charlise
12 years ago

It is a boy thing. I raised two girls and never had to deal with the mind-splitting brain damage that my two boys demonstrate. Last weekend? One of them shut his window in the car on his hand – because he wanted to see what it felt like. He is 4. He watched his brother do it 5 minutes prior, cry, and get told NOT TO DO THAT. But he did it anyway, and instead of a booboo, suffered broken fingers. BRAIN DAMAGED.

Julie @ The Mom Slant
12 years ago

Ohhhh…Bill Cosby Himself. “Ennis took and poured water on the baby and the shampoo run into her eye and she may be blinded for LIIIIIFE!”

I wish I could help you. My husband takes 20 minutes to put on his shoes if the goddamn TV is on. It’s no wonder I have to pull the border collie routine (love it) to get my girls to do anything.

OmegaMom
12 years ago

I don’t think it’s a girl-versus-boy thing, but more a personality thing. Our dotter is *finally* beginning to settle down and focus, and she’s eight years old. Note that I said “beginning”. Oh, she’s been fine in school, but as soon as she’s out of the classroom, she behaves JUST LIKE YOU DESCRIBED with the toothbrushing. EXACTLY. In fact, it’s positively eerie–do you have some type of webcam installed in our house???

Christine
12 years ago

Oh man, I just had a conference with my 4yo daughter’s teacher in which she told me that Wren was “getting there, but not quite able to stay with an activity as long as some other kids”. Yikes. Personally, I think it has to do with temperament, maturity, and general interest in the topic at hand. Wren is way more interested in running around, physically experiencing stuff rather than sitting demurely and quietly while she looks at a book or is read to or whatever. (right now she is supposed to be napping, but the loud noises from her room tell me she is rearranging furniture or building a fort or something) I really think at this age there is a lot of variance in how kids do with focused activity, and I think there is a big difference between boys and girls, because of developmental maturity. Our house (with 3 kids ages 2 (boy), 4 and 11 (girls)) is constantly humming (and sometimes shrieking) with activity and commotion. Our ped doesn’t find anything wrong with the levels of activity, because all of the kids are definitely learning, definitely absorbing their world. Oh, and we have one of those small, low fitness trampolines in the living room so the kids can get on that and jump like crazy. They don’t jump on the couch anymore. :)

All of that was a long-winded dorky way of saying, hey, I wouldn’t worry. :)

Fiona
Fiona
12 years ago

You Americans do seem to focus on the reading at an earlier age I think. My daughter is all about the running around and kicking her heels at 4.5, as my son was. At 12, he’s an avid reader of boy fiction and computer manuals. My view is that they have the rest of their lives to sit and concentrate – give ’em freedom now.

Pete
Pete
12 years ago

Having expectations of your children pretty much starts at birth. I’ve always felt that there is no magic age where you suddenly expect ‘stuff’ from your kids. My kids now do the laundry, vacuum the floors, do the dishes, cook one meal a week, pick up the dog crap, walk the dog, dust the down stairs, etc. I started them out small, like making their bed, and I have been adding more every year. They have never bitched about the work because they have been conditioned to understand that if you live in the house you have responsibilities. On a side note, if they want a cell phone they have to get one themselves and for a car I bought my older son a beat-up 1970 VW Bug we can fix up and he can drive. That way he knows how to work on a car and I feel he will take better care of something he built.

Erika
Erika
12 years ago

There really is no right answer here. It depends on the child. I have a son age 14, a daughter age 6, and a son age 5. My oldest son and my daughter were both reading at age 3. On a 1st or 2nd grade reading level. My 5 year old is just now starting to read. I didn’t think he was behind or not as smart. I just figured he’ll learn at his pace, not his siblings, which is perfectly fine.

leigh
leigh
12 years ago

4-5 age range? Seriously? My son is 16 and we still struggle with this. A lot.

I remember going to his pre-school and seeing that other kids sat still during circle time. I was amazed. Mine is a fidgeter, a dreamy ball of distraction. (Yesterday we pulled the tupperware out of the OUTSIDE garbage can) Yes, he has a mild case of ADD. It makes me crazy, but it’s who he is and I love him dearly. He is brilliant and creative and imaginative in ways I could never be. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Christina
12 years ago

As a parent of one almost 5 year old BOY and a 19 month old GIRL, I would have to say that the 19 month old is WAY WAY WAY better at listening the 5 yr old by far and away. OMG.

Perhaps this is a bit of personality and a bit of gender and a bit of genetics. Who knows… I suspect this will be a life long battle.

At least your older one is TRYING to read. Ours just says ‘NO I am not going to read because I like that you read to me and I do not want to learn to read because you will stop reading to me…’ Try to argue with that reasoning!

No worries it will come together as needed ;)

lisak
lisak
12 years ago

That is the perfect description of trying to get my 11y.o. to do *anything*! And he’s not ADHD or anything, just distractible. Seriously, my 13yo has always been able to focus, get things done. Very mature, always. The 11yo? I am still that crazed herding shepherd. I’m hoping that before he moves out and goes to college we’ll get through one bed time without saying “did you wash your hair while you were in the shower?” (why he continues to *forget* to wash his hair when he showers, which he have gone over ad nauseum, is beyond me) and without reminding him to just. brush. your. teeth. already!!! It’s exhausting, it really is. Good thing he’s cute and still cuddley.

Eric's Mommy
Eric's Mommy
12 years ago

I love Bill Cosby “Himself” I was actually just reciting it the other day!

“But Dad I’m Jesus Christ!”

Kelly
12 years ago

Read The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias. Don’t let the Focus on the Family publishing house discourage you. There is no proselytizing in the book. Her other book, You Can’t Make Me is pretty helpful too.

My 4 and 1/2 year old is NOT reading yet and she very rarely takes direction. Totally normal.

Colleen Jordan
12 years ago

You have perfectly described the difference between boys and girls! Sounds like things are PEFECTLY normal at your house!

Mandy
Mandy
12 years ago

My daughter just turned four, and brushing teeth is a 15-20 minute task, dinner takes an hour (stop touching the cat, put down that toy, sit in your seat, no – sit FORWARD in your seat, no you can’t have my food you have the same thing, STOP trying to pet the cat while you’re eating!), and on and on. She for sure knows her letters, but is not reading and some of her pictures can be recognized, but she’s somewhere in the middle of her class for the most part, and I’m good with that. Each kid is different – I agree talking with his teachers, assuming you respect their opinion, is a great next step to get some perspective.

BTW – you rock. Your blog keeps me sane, or as sane as a working-mom-and-wife-trying-to-exercise-regularly-and-keep-a-home can be.

marcoda
12 years ago

Thank you for bringing this up. I tried to have a heart to heart with my 4 year old just last night. I thought maybe there were some bigger issues around why she wasn’t listening to us. Maybe she was mad because she was missing out on attention or something was happening at school. There has to be SOME REASON for the complete lack of attention and listening skills. Short version of what happened: In order to get an honest open answer, I didn’t mention me or her dad at all. I simply asked her if anything was bugging her. I got some long explanation about monsters and shadows and creepy crawly bugs. “So…huh. Ok. OH! Ok! So! You know how those things make you feel icky and not good and scare you? WELL, when I yell at you after asking you nicely 10 times to do something, that scares me and makes me feel icky and that I’m doing something wrong.” By the end of the evening we were all ok and this morning was a little better but, my god. It sucks! There’s no other nice way to put it. I keep hoping it’s a phase but then I get the helpful “advice” from friends with older kids saying, “It gets worse.” Thanks, assface. My husband and I think it’s because we both work full time outside of the home and our amount of influence over her just isn’t enough and that’s a REALLY icky thought.

nonsoccermom
12 years ago

With my seven-year-old son, it seems like every third word out of my mouth is FOCUS. “Focus, Alex. Alex. ALEXANDER. PLEASE FOCUS.” He’s a really smart kid but he just…spaces out. I have to give him step-by-step instructions for practically everything, even things he does multiple times DAILY. (“Did you flush the toilet? Wash your hands?” “Uhhh, oh. I forgot.”)

So, yeah. I don’t know. It’s a boy thing, I think. My daughter (Dylan’s age) can already pay better attention than her brother.

Melissa
12 years ago

Please God tell me this is kid by kid. My seven year old has the attention span of a gnat AND at the same time can follow instructions to the letter. It’s exhausting. I think I agree with whoever commented that they don’t listen or follow instructions until they have children of their own.

Melissa
12 years ago

I should also mention that she does really well in first grade and she’s above average in all areas. So apparently she pays attention at school.

Mary
12 years ago

It’s (mostly) a boy thing that subsides sometime between 20 and 30. I’m not kidding.

Trina
Trina
12 years ago

I haven’t read through all the comments so I apologize if I am repeating something that has already been said a million times.

It is VERY unusual for a child to be reading before the age of 5. Their brains just aren’t formed enough. Some kids do read early but that means absolutly nothing as far as smartness. There is no need to worry really until 2nd grade (all kids should be reading by then). Since you live in Bellevue and I assume your kids will be in the Bellevue school district (the best in the whole state), I am sure if there is any concern at all they will let you know. For now don’t worry about it at all. We were just discussing this at our last parent meeting for co-op. One way to know if you kid is ready to read is if they can skip. I know it’s weird but it has something to do with left brain and right brain going back and forth.

I looooooove the Cosby routine. We were watching the birth part while I was in labor hoping that the laughing would move things along. :)

Liz
Liz
12 years ago

2 boys: 4 and 7.5: nothing resembling those kinds of skills to date. Some days, few and far between, Big boy is microscopically better than the little boy but mostly, nope.

Sorry.

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

Your boys are perfect, wonderful, intelligent, curious beings. Who cares if they aren’t reading Tolstoy yet. Also mom of two boys…I love the description of being a border collie. THAT’S IT! My oldest is in 2nd grade and is reading about at his grade level….took him forever to get there, but it all evens out.

MRW
MRW
12 years ago

Well my son was reading at 4 and at 6 was able to assemble Lego kits meant for kids much older. HOWEVER, he is now 7 and I still have to herd him to do things like brush his teeth, get dressed, remember his backpack, basically to do anything he is not really interested in doing. Ugh.

That said, I recommend The Minds of Boys, which is a great book about how boys learn and such. The thing I remember most is that they have done studies that show boys and even grown men learn and retain information better when they learn it while they are moving around (men were tested on a treadmill). After reading that, I stopped chastising my son for fidgeting all the damned time when we were reading or doing home work. It’s just such an alien concept to me, but in some ways boys just need to move to focus and learn. Bizarre.

H
H
12 years ago

First – Bill Cosby albums! I grew up with those too and I loved loved loved them.

I’m 48 and my brother is 46. I have always been quiet, attentive, focused and happy to obey. (Really, I have.) My brother has always been busy, outgoing and moving from one thing to another. He doesn’t have anything like ADHD or ADD but his personality is such that he loves to be busy and buck the system. He’s now a very successful businessman. I’m sure it is different for every person, but you may just have yourself a couple of kids like my brother.

Angella
12 years ago

OK. Matthew and I quote that sketch ALL THE TIME. Graham is a smart kid and has always been pretty focused. Then along came Nathan and his standard response is, “I don’t KNOW.”

So, yeah. I’m no help. He’s five and I don’t see an end in sight.

Tracy
Tracy
12 years ago

My kids are almost 14 and 8 and they are still brain damaged. I don’t think the brain damage goes away until they have their own kids. I’m sorry to have to tell you that.

Jess
12 years ago

I LURRVE Bill Cosby. I too grew up listening to this routine. And hooboy. “Parent’s Do Not Wang JUSTICE. We just want QUIET.” I live this motto.

And no, you’re not the only one. I have an almost four year old girl and almost three year old girl (13 months apart. kill. me. now.) and they have the attention span of spastic monkeys. And girls are supposed to develop more quickkly than boys, so I don’t know what that says about my situation. Beh.

Everyone’s different. I teach violin lessons and one of my students (two actually) are about 8 and they struggle staying focused. They aren’t doing very well in school and life in general seems to be moving too slowly for them. But they are AMAZING musicians. And I don’t think their parents would trade that for anything.

We all have our strengths and areas where we struggle. Your boys are healthy, curious, SMART, and energetic. I say that you’re doing just fine.. :)

Jess
12 years ago

Want. Not wang. Want. heh.

JustLinda
12 years ago

I have a 5 year old and she had swimming lessons at the YMCA last night. There are 4 kids in the class. The teacher has them sit along the side of the pool and teaches one at a time to do this or that. And they try to make it FUN! So it’s all throw a beach ball and have the kid swim after it.

I sat and watched my kid bubbling over with excitement “Pick me, my turn, my turn my turn.” A few times, she could hardly stand it and plopped into the water prematurely. “Me, me, me, beach ball, my turn!!!!!”

The instructor was going to teach her a lesson for her impatience, while rewarding the other students for their patience and made my kid wait to go last each time – passed her right over to go to the kid on the other side of her and then the next and only then come back to my kid.

It was sort of amusing to watch because I thought the teacher was sort of a dumbshit for how she did it. But my child… her energy just won’t be contained.

She’s my 5th kid and I know that soon enough she will outgrow this and it will be fine. I’m sure she learned a little something in being made to wait. I smile thinking about it because that bundle of activity and energy… it’s infectious. If I somehow managed it out of her prematurely, I’d miss it.

There’s time for reading later. I’m fine with whirlwind of motion for now. Besides, it gives me great content to blog about. LOL

sarawr
sarawr
12 years ago

Oh, God, I don’t know, but I have been having this exact same problem with my almost-5-year-old since… uh… forever? Forever sounds about right. It certainly feels like forever, what with all the I JUST TOLD YOU NOT TO […] and IT IS NOT THAT HARD TO JUST […] and YOU ARE NOT A GOLDFISH, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO REMEMBER […] and stuff. Some other favorite sayings include I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO TELL YOU […] EVERY 30 SECONDS and WHY DO I HAVE TO WALK YOU THROUGH […] EVERY SINGLE TIME, and these sayings are always kind of all-caps, which is why this comment looks like I snorted a bunch of coke. Uh.

I feel like the biggest, meanest, most un-fun mom ever most days. It seems like all I ever do is nag and remind and ask and tell and order and finally lose it and SHOUT SOME MORE, which then makes me feel guilty for like five seconds until I am once again having to tell him that no! He is not allowed to jump on the bed, and in fact has never been allowed to jump on the bed, and so should be able to remember that rule for more than five damn minutes! Or I resolve to relax and let things ride and then we sit down to dinner and I have to keep herding him into and shepherding him through every single bite, because he never seems to remember how to hold his fork or that you keep chewing until you swallow and then you take another bite and PUT THOSE FEET ON THE FLOOR, MISTER, and gahhhhh.

I don’t have any solutions, is what I should have said to begin with. But this shit is both frustrating and dismally, depressingly age-appropriate.

Christine
Christine
12 years ago

OH GOD! IT’S SO TRUE!!

I have two girls, a 6 y.o. and a 3 y.o. and the older one is FINALLY starting to calm down a bit, what with the teenage attitude and back talk. The little one is completely nuts…

Gnometree
12 years ago

well, he’s a boy. So I expect that it will get better sometime around his 80th birthday

Brenda
12 years ago

I learned a very long time ago, that small children’s attention span is about a minute their age before they are onto something else. This is why Sesame Street was sooo successful….

Gnometree
12 years ago

get hold of the book by Steve Biddulph called Raising Boys. Very insightful book

Faith
Faith
12 years ago

Oh man.. I get frustrated enough with my HUSBAND’s inability to focus on a task I’ve asked him to do. Something tells me I’m going to go batshit insane when it’s him plus a gaggle of children I’m having to constantly be after.

amanda
12 years ago

My kid is too young for me to answer this question – but I was JUST talking about Bill Cosby’s “Himself” TODAY. Such a favorite, although I haven’t seen it in years.

Mama Bub
12 years ago

I think the key word above is “daughter.” Yes, there are boys who are focused and girls who are wild, but it will be a cold day in hell before I say that there’s no difference between boys and girls. There IS. The end.

MyFrogs
MyFrogs
12 years ago

I think it just depends on the kid. I have 2 girls, about a year apart in age. Totally completely different kids. My youngest is ADHD so she’s always been all over the place. My oldest is 10 going on 25, so she’s got the attitude already. But very young my 10 yr old would sit and do stuff for periods of time. Never my youngest. So it just depends on the kid. Good luck lady!

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