Sorting out School Struggles: Tips from Jane Paley, MSed, PsyD
Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to and speak with Jane Paley, PsyD about her ideas for parents whose children may be struggling in school, so I thought I’d share some of the tips and thoughts she offered. I hope it may be useful to you or another parent you may know! (Please note that these take-aways come from my conversation with Jane, but are filtered and at times re-worded through Caron, here.)
Use W's to Gather Information:
“I have yet to meet a 'lazy' kid…the truth is most kids want to do well," Jane said. She then advised that as parents and educators, rather than labeling behaviors (ex: “lazy,” “unmotivated” “attitude” etc. we need to ask: what am I really, seeing? What is underneath this? She suggests using the W's to ask:
WHAT are the biggest problems?
For WHOM is it a problem? (Is the child reporting this as a problem, teachers, peers, caregiver?)
WHERE is it happening? (Be as specific as possible)
WHO are they with when it happens? (Adults, kids, a particular person?)
The more information you can gather the more professionals can help you.
Search for What's Under the Behavior:
Jane advised that behavior changes are always important to pay attention to, as are persistent behaviors that might be affecting your child's academic progress, social life, and general well being. You and your child's team should be asking if the behaviors you are observing might be connected to issues that are:
Emotional: for example: is your child experiencing anxiety or depression?
Circumstantial: Have their been recent changes or events in your child's life (ex: a new sibling, move, loss) that may be affecting behavior?
Learning related: Could there be a developmental, cognitive, or learning style that is affecting your child's ability to progress?
Also note, that behaviors and underlying issues can become cyclical (ex: having trouble reading may lead a child to feel different or embarrassed, which may lead them to withdraw from social interactions and/or class discussions, which may lead them to less language acquisitions and further academic trouble...)
What To Expect from Evaluations:
If you or educators are noticing your child is consistently struggling academically, socially, or behaviorally, you should consider a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation by a trained professional. Talk to your child's teacher, administrators, counselors about options to have this done, through the DOE or privately and know what you should be getting. Jane advised that evaluations should give you:
A Picture: a very clear, understandable snapshot of a child’s learning functioning in school.
Direction: a report that is a picture of the present and a roadmap for the future.
A Blueprint: understanding of strengths, loves, struggles, challenges, and the underlying issues.
Recommendations: how can the child can best be supported by caregivers, teachers, schools.
Predictions: what supports might your child need in the future?
Documentation: paperwork that will aid in getting the child future services if/when needed. (Even if you think your child might not continue to have these issues, it's best to build up documentation in case they do!)
Reference: a way for future teachers, counselors, and other specialists who may work with your child to work with and off each other.
Know Your Rights and Resources when it comes to Evaluations:
DOE may be responsible for providing your child a free evaluation and related services: for some more information see the DOE info here. For more assistance check out www.advocatesforchildren.org
-there are low cost resources for evaluations as well to be found so be sure to ask and research. if you or a family you know is looking for an outside resource. (In NYC some examples are: Bellvue Hospital Cetner, Ferkauf School of Psychology at Yeshiva University.)
Be Your Child's Trusty Rock!:
Remember: What it was like for you to be in school? Recalling the negative and the positive of your own experience can help you empathize with your child's present situation.
Validate: Shame, anxiety, humiliation shuts us down! Children don't want false praise, but they do want you to notice their progress: regardless of outcomes, try noticing something about their efforts.
Keep in mind: Our school systems are often designed for particular learning styles and outcomes, that don't match the needs of all children. While there may be some general markers of typical development, people still develop at unique paces. Your child is making their own way.
Give Time: Life moves fast these days, and so do schools: find ways to give your child time to slow down, repeat, try again...