Month: September 2014

Deep Breathing Down the Jangly Road

By the upper elementary school grades, parents are given the message from the school that their child needs to do school work on his or her own without the parental support that was offered in previous grades. For many children, that’s exactly what should be happening. By about fourth grade or so, these kids should be independently steering their own boat, so to speak.

For about 50% of the population (mostly the girls), this approximation of when a child should be functioning independently seems to work pretty well. For these kids, they write down their assignments, take their assignment books home, approximate how much time they need for a task and see things through to a conclusion. For this portion of the population, they hand in in their work without too much strife. Teachers are smiling at them and patting them on the head. Parents are congratulating themselves. Everyone’s happy.

Then there’s the other side. For these kids, as a general theme, they have great difficulty getting started on tasks and sustaining their effort. They struggle with time approximation and show limited frustration tolerance. More often than not, parents are told, “He’s just not trying hard enough, ” or “We’re not medical doctors and can’t diagnose, but don’t you think you should have him evaluated?” The message is clearly given – “This child needs to be on medication.”

I call these two populations, the “smooth road kids,” and the “rough road kids.”

The smooth roaders sail down the road without too much difficulty. In effect, they are “piece of cake” from a parental or teacher perspective. Not so the “rough roaders.” These kids jangle people’s nerves and get others irritated. They pull for a lot of negative reaction. Most of my career has been spent around this type of child. Having seen thousands of them, I don’t think they mean to be doing these behaviors. I think they would try harder if they could, but they just don’t seem to have it in them. Most of these kids are smart enough, but very inefficient, stylistically.

What do these kids need?

Above all, I think these kids need two things that are not easy to come by – patience and structure.

Being patient with these kids is challenging for the above suggested reasons. Homework is a battle. The disorganization and lack of task completion is infuriating. My best suggestion is that as the child’s parent you pull back a little bit. Deep breathe a lot. Meditate. Use some CBD oil or plant supplements if they help you be calm and patient. Do whatever you can to try and bring down the temperature. Try and talk less reactively and more in measured, matter-of fact tones. Function more as a homework consultant who is close by offering a degree of support, rather than sitting immediately next to the child helping all along the way. In other words, don’t be in too deep.

The structure can come in many forms. Setting up a homework hour or an hour and a half in which electronics are greatly reduced or non-accessible is just one example. Letting the child know how it will go in these homework sessions is also an example. For example, calmly stating, “If you give me a good hour of effort then you are free to do as you please afterward. You will have earned your screen time by putting forth reasonable effort. If you don’t, then your screen time has not been earned. Either way is fine with me. If it doesn’t go your way maybe you will get it right tomorrow.”

Kids are wired one way or the other. The rough road is jangly and difficult to go down, but it does make life interesting.

Dyslexia: It Comes From Some Place

A very common question that parents will ask me of their child who is showing signs of dyslexia is “Why?  Where does it come from?”

As suggested in International Dyslexia Association definition of dyslexia it states that it is likely to be of “neurobiological origin.”

Sometimes I will hear parents confusing that term, “neurobiological” with something like “neurological dysfunction” or some type of brain disorder.

I rarely think the child who I evaluated with dyslexia as having a brain disorder.  Rather it seems to be a familial predisposition that is playing out with one or more of the children.

Take George, a successful photographer and videographer running his own company.  People are always amazed by the textures and tones of the work that he produces.  What people don’t know about George is that he has always struggled with reading and writing.  (Since he tends to feel embarrassed about this fact, he usually doesn’t disclose this to too many people.)

When George and his wife Katherine had their first child, Megan, she sailed right along with the early learning activities.  Reading skills unfolded naturally.  Not so, their second child, Robert.   Robert resisted most of the preschool activities that involved reading and in first grade it became quickly apparent that Robert was going to have a much tougher ride learning how to read than the other children in his class.  The school was reluctant to test him so early suggesting that it was only because he was a boy and maybe the parents needed to go for an “ADD” assessment.  They were astonished by the ADD suggestion because Robert didn’t show any of the behavioral features that they thought involved ADD.

They then sought a private opinion. While reviewing the history, George spoke about how hard it was for him as a child, painfully recounting the shame and embarrassment that accompanied all of the school experiences that he remembered (like they were yesterday).

Robert was exactly like he was when he was in school. They struggled in the same areas. They also had very similar strengths in spatial/mechanical thinking.

In other words, it (the dyslexia) comes from some place.  This is something that you can never know 100%, but this type of scenario with George and Robert are extremely common.

As a takeaway point, try and move away from dysfunction/disabiltiy thinking and move more toward “predisposition.”  That type of thinking takes some of the edge off of it.

One more piece of advice, always remember to blame the male side of the gene pool!!!!


5,000 Tweets & Counting: A Milestone Is Reached!

This week I glanced at my Twitter page and found that I was at 4,999 total tweets!

Over the 5,000 tweets there are themes that emerged that are fairly consistent.  These themes were summed up in my book, School Struggles, but I thought they would be nice here as a reminder as I hit this special milestone of 5,000 tweets.

Smooth Road/Rough Road

As many of my tweets have pointed out, I believe there are essentially two categories of children. In the first category are the kids who seem to be navigating the academic and social challenges of school. Their ride down the road is relatively smooth. For these kids, they are engaged in a positive feedback loop that starts in the early grades and continues on throughout their school years and into college.  It’s a pretty good ride.

Then there is everyone else.

Of this other population, some kids are classified with learning disabilities, some have 504 plans, some are seen as not needing any services or accommodations, yet are still struggling. These kids have a tough time of it because they may have trouble with some facet of school or another. For the kids on the rough road, it is our job to try and fill in a few of the holes, recognizing that we can’t fully make the road smooth.  Their ride is tough, but we can  help them along.

Positive Trajectory Over Time

I’ve been at this work long enough to be able to take a “bird’s eye” view and see that so many of the kids who are on the rough road ultimately turn out fine and are doing nicely in whatever direction they chose to go. I have learned this because many kids have contacted me years later to let me know that they had done well.  I also will run into parents  who remind me of what a hard time it was back in the day during the tough times, but that things have improved greatly.

Staying Calm/Being Patient & Finding the Middle Road

Another common theme in the tweets is emphasizing the need to be calm, patient and clear with children. As parents, we steer the ship. The captains have to make tough decisions along the way and set the course. They need to find the best course. If rigid control is exercised, the deckhands will get angry and look to mutiny and overthrow the control. On the other hand, if things are too loose the ship will flounder and the deckhands will do nothing.

Finding a middle position with kids, being firm and clear, but not too authoritative or rigid always seems to work best. Stay calm and patient in the middle of the storms.

This, Too, Shall Pass

An expression I heard many years ago spoken to parents who were concerned that their children were not measuring up or meeting expectations, summed it up. It went something like this: “Be patient. God isn’t done with them yet.”

I remember thinking that such an expression was exactly on the money and helped the parents to calm down, see the big picture and not be so focused on the immediate problems. The expression allowed parents to gain some perspective.

So does the expression, “This, too, shall pass.”

With virtually all child issues, remind yourself of this and things will look a lot brighter in the morning.

On to the next 5000th tweets.  See you at the 10,000 mark!


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



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