By Dr. David Blake
Every child is a whole, complete person with strengths and weaknesses, but some weaknesses are easier for a child to ignore than others.
A boy with poor eye-hand coordination can avoid Little League while relying on his strengths in language and reading to forge an identity as a good student.
Children with weaknesses that lead to academic struggles, however, have a more difficult time minimizing their weaknesses.
They cannot opt out of school. Every school day, they must face their weaknesses in a way that few other children must do. As a result, their self-esteem can take a hit.
The parents of a child who struggles in school therefore must pay close attention to that child’s emotional health.
Difficulties at school – due to a learning disorder, ADHD, “below average” IQ, or some other cause – place a child at risk for anxiety, depression and (later on) risk-taking behaviors such as alcohol use.
So, how does a parent protect a child’s emotional health? Try these strategies.
Take a strengths-based approach.
Make sure your child understands her strengths as well as (if not better than) her weaknesses.
Develop those strengths! Weaknesses should be addressed but not to the extent that little time remains for activities a child enjoys and is good at doing.
In the long run, a child’s strengths will play a huge role in determining her life’s work, so it is very important to develop strengths.
Introduce a wide-range of activities.
She may find joy in art, drama, dance, sports, animals or even more “academic” subjects such as science, history or writing. A passion never experienced is a passion never found.
Provide a warm, supportive environment at home.
Express unconditional love for your child. Don’t allow home life to revolve around her academic difficulties.
Instead, provide a listening ear when your child needs to vent about her perception of his challenges.
Encourage your child to self-advocate.
If your child has accommodations at school help her to know and understand these accommodations.
Teach her to ask for her accommodations if they are not being provided by teachers.
Help her look for solutions to challenges at school instead of complaining about them.
Remind your child that school is temporary.
Although your child needs to learn material presented in school, remind her that she will be able to focus on things of interest as her education and life progress.
Most children who struggle academically will go on to live full, happy lives.
The guidance of patient, loving parents can help protect your child’s emotional health while she gets there.
Dr. David Blake is board-certified in developmental-behavioral pediatrics and general pediatrics. A native of Lexington, he is one of six pediatricians at Commonwealth Pediatrics.