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Handling School Struggles

While school experiences can promote feelings of personal achievement and success, most children struggle with a learning issue at one point or another. Although most learning problems don’t evolve into disabling conditions (approx. 2-3 percent of children are estimated to require the more intensive instruction and support of Special Education), the impact of an academic difficulty can have a real impact on your child’s confidence, motivation, and enthusiasm as a learner.

Partner with your child’s teacher.
Take a few minutes (or write a quick note) to let the teacher know that you want to be an active partner in supporting your child’s learning at home. Ask what you can do to promote his/her learning and independence. The teacher may advise you to read with your child or to check her/his homework, or you might be asked to allow your child to take on more responsibility for and independence in his/her learning. Whatever the advice, take it and trust that the teacher wants the same thing you do—your child’s success!

Know when to ask for help.
Some learning “problems” are short-term and can almost seem to “disappear” with a little extra study time and effort. However, persistent problems or patterns should be addressed early. Communicate concerns that don’t resolve in a reasonable amount of time. Let the teacher know if your child is consistently struggling with homework or if you see other negative patterns regarding schoolwork. Comparing observations from home and school will help you determine the extent and the source of the problems.

Define the Problem.
The basic source of any academic problem comes down to one of two things: 1) either the child lacks the skill or knowledge to complete the task, or 2) something is getting in the way of the child’s demonstration of what he/she knows—in other words, is it a “skill deficit” or a “performance deficit”?

Skill deficit: If the child lacks the skill or knowledge required to complete an academic task, this can often be remedied by repeating instruction or providing varying approaches to instruction (ex: using hands-on activities, or using visuals that help support verbal information.) If teacher and parent interventions do not resolve issues within several months, discuss with school staff the possibility of formal evaluation to determine the absence/presence of a learning disability or other impairment that may require a specific instructional program.

Performance deficit: Many factors can hinder a child’s ability to demonstrate what they know. Determining the source of the problem is critical to resolving the problem. Some of the most common factors that can hinder academic performance are motivational issues, social or emotional issues, and attention problems. The good news is that there are many different strategies that might effectively address each of these issues. Ask to have a team meeting with your child’s teacher, the school psychologist or social worker, and any other school-based specialists that might contribute to creating a plan to increase motivation, to resolve social or emotional concerns, or to increase focus and attention.

Stay positive and be patient.
Don’t panic. Maintain positive relationships and work collaboratively with your child’s teacher and school staff. Every problem has at least one solution. Stay open to new ideas and approaches and don’t give up! It may take some time but things will work out.

By Dr. Marion Swanson

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