“How will my children do in school? Will they perform up to their potential?” Questions like these are often on the minds of every parent ever since their child starts school in preschool or kindergarten. We look at their work, ask them questions, talk to their teachers. Often we still wonder, “How would I be able to tell if my child were having problems?”
Sometimes our first signal that all is not well is that we begin to notice our child consistently falling behind other children in a certain area. Attitude changes toward school, a sudden unwillingness to bring home assignments or work graded at school, increased frustration while attempting homework — all of these may point toward a worsening area of difficulty in academics. Two very common problem areas are poor reading comprehension, and trouble understanding and applying math concepts. Parents need to keep themselves aware of how their child is doing by working with their children and making note of how well their child seems to understand the work sent home by the school.
Educators point out that a child’s inability to learn a new skill may mean that a prior, more basic skill was not learned along the way. This shows up especially clearly in the area of mathematics. A teen may be having trouble in algebra because they never really mastered the elementary age skills of fractions and division. Also, parents may not realize that children often don’t do their homework because they truly don’t know how to do it — how to organize themselves, break down a large assignment into more manageable parts, how to take notes and review reading assignments.
Academic problems are usually verified by poor test scores or falling grades. Spotting emotional problems in our children can be a little more difficult. In this area it is also extremely important to be aware of what is appropriate developmentally. How a child is functioning in the major biological areas of eating, sleeping and toilet habits can be a major source of information. Prolonged regression, or marked changes of any kind in these areas definitely warrant a call to the pediatrician, who may then make a referral for counseling.
The ability to tolerate frustration and to do independent problem-solving is vital, and one that tends to develop steadily with a little encouragement. If we notice that our child differs a great deal from other children of the same age, or if our child suddenly has much less frustration tolerance or patience, then this too may be cause for concern.
A third area to be aware of is that of relationships with peers. Obviously every child is different in their approach to socializing, but again it is valuable to note how our children compare in a general way with other children of roughly the same age. With very young children, we look at their ability to separate from parents and form bonds with teachers and other caretakers, and also at how well they transition from one type of activity to the next, such as learning to stop playing at recess and line up to enter the classroom. Elementary age children are very interested in forming friendships, although some children will have many friends while others prefer just one or two. Teens who are having great difficulty finding a peer group, or who gravitate toward a very negative peer group may give us cause for concern.
The point of all this discussion about noticing signals of potential problems in our children is not to raise our anxiety. Instead, the objective is to define a few areas to be aware of, so that if we find ourselves consistently feeling worried about our children, we have a beginning way to evaluate them. If after reading through this article, you are still concerned about how your child is progressing, it is always valuable to check with your child’s teacher and/or their pediatrician. Both know your child well, and can help you decide if you need or want to investigate further with other professionals, such as tutors, speech pathologists, or counselors.
Our counselors at Families are well-trained in helping parents address different parenting concerns, and address behavior and other problems. Contact Deborah Tucker, LMFT for help in finding the right therapist for your family. If you feel your child needs an evaluation, we have an excellent psychologist as well, Dr. Shiro Torquato.