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How to know when your child ‘needs help’

It is a lurking concern for every parent – that realisation that my child ‘needs help’. Aside from waiting for the blatant grading from your child’s school, what else should you be looking out for as early signals? What can you, as a parent, look out for to avoid failing grades in the first instance? And at what point should you act to get help for your child?

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. ― Socrates

Many children do not reveal the fact that they are battling academically at school for many varied reasons but there are tell-tale signs that can alert us. Loss of appetite, constantly tired, decrease in energy even when in play mode, irritability, avoidance of homework and Monday morning blues - "I don't want to go to school"!

Be it a less than spectacular report card, a passing comment from a teacher, or just something you’ve noticed yourself. No one wants their child to struggle in anything, and facing the issue can be daunting and stressful for parents and children.

Overall – act as soon as you can. The last thing you want to have happen is years of struggle, leading to a loss of confidence, and potentially an “I’m too stupid” mindset in your child. Sometimes the solution is as simple as reinstating (or finding) a love of learning, or even just learning how to learn. What if all your child needs is some guidance on figuring out how they learn best, and empowering them to take control over their education? These are certainly concepts that transcend all subjects across all years of schooling (not to mention ongoing tertiary education and general applicability in the workplace).

Of course there is always the potential for more serious or complex learning difficulties. But again, this is nothing to shy away from, and there can be solutions for improvement and manageability that are just waiting to be explored. Never assume that nothing can be done. Your child is never too old (and that goes for adults too!) or too ‘difficult’ to be beyond help.

The other thing to remember is that ‘help’ does not necessarily mean a long term commitment to tutoring on a particular subject. It may just be a single concept that your child is finding challenging to fully understand. In such instances, a session or two with a tutor may be all that is needed. For example, if your child is finding it difficult to apply some fundamental grammatical rules, by tackling such issues as soon as they crop up, we can avoid the formation of related issues further on, and get the child’s learning back on track with minimal fuss. In the long run, this approach can certainly be more cost-effective for parents too.

But let’s step back for a moment. Why is ‘needing help’ sometimes such a terrible prospect? Of course we worry about it somehow being our fault, or perhaps the beginning of a bigger issue. And if we are truly honest, perhaps we are also worried about what others will think when they find out your child is getting extra lessons (particularly when their child doesn’t need any). But comparison is the enemy here, and it is so important to remember that ‘needing help’ means something different for every child. The most gifted, talented and scientifically-minded child might need help with their creative writing. Likewise, you may have a musical prodigy in your brood that is completely flummoxed by long division. The point is, we all have our strengths, and needing extra guidance is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s all part of the process of learning who you are, and how your brain works best. In many ways, it also guides your child through that process of acknowledging that they will come across challenges in life, and that it is ok to not be a raging success in everything. But further to that is providing them with an opportunity to take on something that they find difficult, and building their self-confidence to know that they can overcome challenges (and what an amazing skill that is!).

In summary, never be afraid to seek assistance for your child. There is so much stigmatism around seeking extra help with schooling, but honestly, we can all use a bit of extra help every now and then.

Dr Courtenay Mills
PhD, BSc (Hons 1), BA
Senior Tutor | Educent Kenmore

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