I am sure you will agree that nobody is perfect and that kids, being people-in-the-making, cannot be expected to be perfect. So when your child struggles with some difficulty, it can be just part of being a child or it can be something else. It is often hard to tell.
Mama knows best
Community nurses will tell you that the phrase "Mama knows best" is true and when a parent feels their child is suffering some kind of problem, they should be taken seriously and the child should be thoroughly checked until the problem is found and fixed. Ronit helps identify kids' problems regularly and is amazed at how many times parents arrive in desperation, having been dismissed and ignored by "the professionals".
So whether you are Mama or Papa, if you suspect your child might be having some sort of a problem, you know best. Do not let anyone put you down or discourage you. Your child is your responsibility and if you say he or she needs help, that is good enough. Keep on searching and doing the best for your child until you succeed.
What's the problem with my child?
Excuse me if I use a computer metaphor, but in the IT world, there are 3 kinds of people: hardware engineers, software developers and implementers. Hardware engineers know how to combine electronic components and build computers. Software developers enable the hardware to do a lot of wonderful things. Implementers (business analysts) choose the best hardware, software, settings and methods to use in a particular context.
Parents, unfortunately, have to be all of them.
Check your kid's hardware
When I was a university student, I was a "big brother" to a disadvantaged boy in 2nd Grade (let's call him Sunny). The poor kid' father lived somewhere else, money was nonexistent to the point where there was no running water, both his parents had a past of drugs (I had no proof about their present) and he was doing badly at school.
One day, as I was helping Sunny with his homework, he told me he could not see the board in class.
"What do you mean?" I asked, being very inexperienced at the time.
"When I sit in class, I see the teacher's writing on the board very blurry. Most of the time, I can't make out what she writes", he said sadly.
"Where do you sit in class?" I asked.
"I used to sit at the back, but then I could hardly see where the board was, so now I sit in the first row, but it's no good", he said.
"Maybe you need glasses", I suggested.
"I told my mom for a long time about this, but she didn't believe me", Sunny said miserably.
Ronit recently assessed a child who was not poor at all, lived with both his parents and still did poorly at school. After spending some time with him, she realized he did not pronounce words properly. After some specific testing, she concluded his problem was with his hearing.
His mother reacted to this diagnosis as a great revelation and immediately decided to have his hearing checked. After that is corrected, he is likely to go through a period of catching up and eventually have a normal life.
But others are not so lucky. in 1991, Ronit had a girl who was sensitive to the protein in milk. Since much of her diet (she was 2 years old) was dairy food, her nose was runny all the time and she suffered from frequent ear infections. Based on Ronit's diagnosis and recommendation, her mother took her (after months of convincing) to a specialist who operated on her ears and installed ear tubes to relieve the pressure in her ears.
Despite the clear indication that her daughter's health and hearing were affected by her diet, the girl's mother changed nothing. The little girl is now 22 years old and has not caught up with her age group. The period of partial deafness changed this girl's life forever.
So regardless of the symptoms, consider your child's "hardware" first, including eyes, ears, breathing, tongue and mouth, posture, quality and quantity of sleep, food sensitivities, allergies, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and muscle tone. Take your child to a reliable and open-minded doctor, run every suitable test and rule out "organic" causes.
Check your kid's software
Every child is pre-programmed with communication styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic and/or digital) and love languages (affirmations, services, quality time, physical touch and/or gifts).
A totally healthy child with an excellent pair of eyes and a perfect brain may have great difficulty reading in a noisy place. Once you discover your child is auditory, that makes sense and the solution is clear.
A vital, bouncy child with no vision or hearing problems may struggle at school despite the teacher's best efforts. Once you discover your child is kinesthetic and needs to move, you can work out ways to liberate the little person and help him or her excel and be happy.
This blog contains many posts on stimulating children with various communication styles and a number of posts on supporting the different love languages, so if your child's physical checkups are all clear, read up on communication styles and love languages and check the child's "software".
Check your kid's implementation
Sunny's mother listened to him after a while and took him to an optometrist, who found out Sunny was very near sighted. He prescribed a thick pair of lenses and Sunny's mom, having no money to pay, chose the cheapest frame for them, which would be fully refunded by the government.
Sunny kept doing badly at school.
One day, I wondered about his glasses and asked him to show them to me. He refused and looked ashamed. I told him that there was nothing to be ashamed of and that Ronit has to wear glasses all the time, as did many other people we both knew.
After some convincing, he finally went to his schoolbag and produced a spectacularly ugly pair of glasses. He shyly showed it to me and said quietly, "I'm never wearing these at school. Never ever!"
"Don't you see better with your glasses? This is your chance to see what the teacher writes on the board and keep up", I said.
"I came with my glasses the first time and everyone called me 'four eyes' and laughed at me", he said, nearly in tears, "I told my mom to buy me a different frame, but she didn't listen to me and bought this bulky, ugly one. I look horrible in them and I'll never wear them to school".
Sunny cared a lot more about being accepted socially and having friends to play with than he did about his school performance. For a child who had been abandoned by his father, other people's company was precious and good grades were not going to bring his father back home.
Sometimes, despite our best intentions and due to a whole bunch of grownup considerations, we produce solutions that ignore the context of our kids' life. In some cases, the child will try for a while, but as soon as they have a choice, they will do something different (anyone with teenagers will agree).
We sometimes hear about kids who stayed at home until it was time to go to school and played very little with others. Their start is rough and involves a lot of friction with others, fighting over possession of toys and book, defiance and more. Some parents' reaction to this is to keep their kids at home for another year, until they "grow up" or even choose home schooling for them, believing they have social difficulties.
But without enough social experience, it is not surprising the kids have a hard time initially. What they need is not to grow up but to adjust and learn the rules of engagement, which the other children will quickly teach them. What they need is not more isolation but more time with other kids so that they can adjust faster and at a younger age.
The context makes all the difference sometimes, so check the "implementation".