Month: March 2014

What’s the One Thing Struggling Kids Need?

Kids who are struggling feel like they are constantly running up hill while the other kids are on an easy downward slope.   

In this day and age of Student Growth Percentiles, Common Core and PARCC testing what is the one thing that the struggling kids need above all?

They need people to be patient with them, to ease up on all of the pressure.

Sometimes they get burned out with it all.

Turn down the heat this weekend.

Take your kid out for an ice cream cone.

“The House Looks Fine – What’s the Problem?”

Many times a parent (usually the mom) senses that something is amiss with her child and wants to have and  evaluation conducted in school.  If the child is getting decent grades, the response to the request is often denied. The parent may hear  a version of the following,  “Well, she’s getting good grades-what’s the problem?”

As the request for an evaluation is denied, the mom may walk away thinking that perhaps she was being unduly concerned. She may be given the impression that she is over-worrying, that she is the source of the problem.

Time goes by, though, and the mom continues to see the struggling.  It is at that point that an outside assessment may be  sought to see what is going on with the child.  More often than not in a situation like this, what I find is that there are “cracks in the foundation” that are identifiable and that help to explain some of the struggling, thus validating the mom’s concerns.

These cracks are like the ones in your house. Sure the house looks fine, but the foundation may be a little shaky. (If you are having foundation issues, then you need to get it fixed as soon as possible!) It’s not that he school was wrong, it’s that the cracks were not big enough for them to take action.

With a child, the shaky foundation doesn’t necessarily mean that the child is “disabled,” but it also doesn’t mean that the child is fine. The good grades may be masking some of the issues of concern (the foundation).

A child can get good grades for all kinds of reasons. For example, a child can probably get a ‘B’ in most classes in elementary school if she doesn’t give the teacher a hard time, hands in her homework, and exhibits other teacher-pleasing behaviors.   Many children (especially the girls) have figured this out. Such an approach is a good strategy for not drawing any undue negative attention to yourself. (Boys are notorious for not figuring this out.)

As a parent you should listen to your instincts. When you think there are concerns, there usually are. While the school may not act on your concerns because the child is in what is seen as within the norm, you probably should have someone check out whether your concerns are reasonable.

Cracks widen over time. Problems grow.

Taking some action to address the cracks is better than no action.

A Compound Interest Mentality With #Childhood

Change does not come easily for any of us. Think about how deeply ingrained our personalities, habits and proclivities are. Fundamentally, we are who we are.

Parents spent a lot of time trying to change children and I sometimes find that their efforts may be a bit too ambitious.

Rather than go for large change, a “compound-interest mentality” may help as an alternative.

With compound interest, our finances grow in small increments. Interest is paid on top of interest paid – an improve product is improved in little steps. With compund interest our money grows over time.

Using this approach with children can be enormously helpful.

Let’s say your child has great trouble putting papers away, keeping track of assignments, knowing where to find materials, clearing out book bags, etc. In short, your child has moderate to severe problems with basic organization skills, otherwise known as “executive functioning.”

Trying to get your child to improve in this area can be overwhelming (for the parent and the child), and often leads to frustration.

Having a compound interest mentality is a slower process, but the hope is that smaller, incremental change can occur over time.

To think in compounding terms, come up with a handful of skills that you think would represent real improvement in your child. Write down this list of specific skills.

Focus on one skill for a period of time until you think that skill has been internalized and mastered. A “skill of the month” approach can help move this along.  For example, April can be “Put-Your-Homework-in-the-Right- Binder-Month.” Practice this skill and acknowledge  it when it is done right.  (Postive reinforcement helps, but don’t lay on too much syrup, as kids see though that and then don’t respond.)

Once the skill of the month has been internalized, this would represent a form of “interest” that has been paid, so to speak. The next skill that is practiced will be on top of an already improved product.

The key to the compound interest approach is having patience and recognizing small, incremental progress.

Takeaway Point

Change does not come easily. The more we embrace this truth, the more patient we will be with children. Targeting and isolating specific skills and practicing them to the point of mastery helps to lead to small, incremental improvements over time.

Adapted from “School Struggles,” Richard Selznick, Ph.D. (Sentient Publications, 2012)


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