Take Allison, age 8. One night Allison was told by her mother that her father was, “tied up in traffic.” Allison burst into tears. “Why is daddy being tied up?” she sobbed.
It took her mother some time to explain to Allison that her father wasn’t actually being tied up and that this was an expression – a way of getting one’s point across with words that show picture images.
So many kids have difficulty with the subtle and not-so-subtle aspects of language. Kids like Allison can be easily overloaded with too many words hitting them at once and having no place in their “mental closet” to store such words or expressions. That’s why I’m glad that there sites online such as the Effortless English Club that can help people (kids and adults) learn to speak English properly.
The effect of having difficulty with metaphorical language usually appears with reading comprehension or mathematic word problems. Such difficulty also becomes apparent with inferencing, reading between the lines, and drawing conclusions.
We use language very freely, and quite often it just “washes over the child’s head.” Is it any wonder that so many shut-down learner children appear distracted and zoned out in class?
They are literally “language overloaded.”
More often than not this “zoning out” results in the often repeated recommendation to parents that says, “We can’t diagnose, but don’t you think the child to be checked out for ADD?”
The meta-message of the recommendation is that the child needs to be on medication. Sadly, when most of these children land in the neurologist’s office they leave with a prescription based on the symptoms that were given. The language processing variables are rarely considered.
So, if your child is not “steering her boat” or is “wandering in the desert aimlessly,” or “spinning her wheels in the mud,” consider that perhaps you are overwhelming your child with too much language and too many metaphors. It’s just too much.
Is your child someone who has trouble with too much language? Does she seem confused when you use figurative language? As adults, there are so many phrases that we take for granted, but that go over a child’s head resulting in confusion or inattentiveness.
Take nothing for granted with the language that you use. You may want to target the child’s skill in this area by having a figurative example of the week. For example, while driving along you may want to say something like, “You know we can kill two birds with one stone by going to the store.” Without overdoing it (often done by parents), try to elicit from what the expression might mean and whether the child has any idea of its meaning.
Before you know it she will have many more “tools in her tool chest” to draw upon as her experience with figurative language or other forms of language increase.
Adapted: “School Struggles,” by Richard Selznick, Ph.D. (2012, Sentient Publications)
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