What Now? My Child is Struggling at School

by:  Craig Peterson

Practing sight words in first grade (2)Looking back to my elementary school years, I was lucky. Learning came easy.

Fast forward 30 years.

My children were struggling at school. When a flyer came home about a school workshop, I jumped at the chance to gain additional knowledge.

Several weeks later I encountered a roomful of overwhelmed mothers. Within ten minutes I had an entirely new take on parental frustration.

“My daughter’s behind her peers in everything,” said one mom who burst into tears. “What am I supposed to do?”

“My son can’t even tie his shoes!” exclaimed another with obvious embarrassment. “Shouldn’t he know how to do that by now?”

The presenter, a seasoned teacher who also is the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, listened intently. She then responded.

“You DO what comes next.”

So utterly simple! I never forgot her carefully chosen words.

The point being made was NOT placing too many demands on the child. Instead, focus on the task that builds upon the previous one, master it to the best of the child’s ability and proceed to the next logical step.

Such “common sense” advice is often ignored when parents constantly compare their children to others. Resist that temptation – each and every time.

It does nothing to build a child’s self-esteem.

It does nothing to further attachment.

This approach doesn’t mean lowering expectations. It actually facilitates just the opposite – by being reasonable and creating a solid foundation of achievement.

In fact, the same strategy applies to motivating anyone – because people can only process a reasonable amount of new information. By breaking an activity into pieces enables, they experience a series of “small wins.” Soon they feel competent and want to try a more difficult task.

From that day forward, I considered my six children to be six individuals. Since their needs weren’t identical, my parenting didn’t have to be exactly the same for each one.

Sometimes my middle son would pull the “that’s not fair” card, but I reminded him. The same courtesy would be extended to him when the time was right.

What does this all mean?

Prioritize your child’s issues. Don’t stray. Stick to them. And in time the progress will be evident. When a task is accomplished, check it off your list. Better yet, allow your child the satisfaction of measuring his or her progress.

In the process I also learned an important fact. Teachers are human. They do their best. Yet they don’t always have all the answers.

That’s when I started asking questions – thoughtful ones. I even volunteered regularly in the classroom and watched firsthand.

Two caring souls – a parent and a teacher – will always be better than one.

And those shoe laces that were such an obsession for one frazzled mother?

To this very day, one of my sons sometimes asks me to help him tie his shoes when he’s feeling overwhelmed.

He definitely knows what comes next.

D. Craig Peterson is a retired ATN Board Director. You name it, Craig has a story to share in achieving success and learning from mistakes as he raised six children to adulthood...all while maintaining faith and believing in unconditional love. He understands the ups and downs of learning challenges, special education, psychotropic medications, ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, sexual abuse, juvenile justice, residential placement and so much more. In his upcoming book Adopting Faith: A Father's Unconditional Love, Peterson details his journey in raising six children who brought unbelievable challenges from their birth families and the foster care system. His parenting is a combination of typical and unconventional strategies." His blog is here: https://adoptingfaithafathersunconditionallove.org/