Subject: Academic Concern
PORTRAIT OF A CHILD WHO IS STRUGGLING:
Typical feelings of a child:
anger, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, fearfulness, frustration, loneliness,
Typical beliefs of a child:
“I’m stupid.” “School is too hard.” “It was supposed to have been fun.” “You can’t trust teachers.” “I hate school.”
Typical behaviors of a child
Withdrawal, refusing to talk about any problems; or, angry, demanding that others are to blame; or, refusing to attend school and having many
PORTRAIT OF AN ADOLESCENT WHO IS STRUGGLING:
Typical feelings of an adolescent:
anxiety, anger, frustration, rejection, loneliness, misunderstood, worthlessness, and low self-esteem
Typical beliefs of an adolescent:
“They expect too much from me.” “I’m stupid.” “I’ll never get it.” “Teachers can’t teach me.” “School (or life) is hopeless.” “Teachers (or parents) don’t care.”
Typical behaviors of an adolescent:
Acting tough with both peers and adults, being argumentative, either blaming others for all academic issues, or accepting that it is hopeless and all the student’s fault. Tardiness, skipping, dropout, and/or school refusal. Often has a lot of physical complaints of illness.
There can be a variety of reasons why a student isn’t successful in school. When a child begins to experience school difficulties, it often has to do with the child’s immaturity in developing appropriate social skills to feel comfortable with peers. When a child feels comfortable with his ability to cope with new situations that include new people, he will adjust to school much more readily than a child who is still learning how to cope with changes in structure and expectations. For example: most four-year olds would have great difficulty in sitting in a first grade classroom, with the amount of structure and expectation given in the classroom. We expect that our first graders will be able to sit still for twenty to thirty minutes, share an activity with a group of peers, follow rules and requests of the teacher, and be able to use manners and politeness with both peers and adults. Four year olds’ are still working on their ability to share, sit still, not interrupt, follow all rules, and not be impulsive. If a child lags behind in her maturational development, she will begin to experience anxiety, frustration, and a sense of failure in her early school years.
Often the child who struggles in the early school years will have the disadvantage in coping with appropriate social skills in progressing through school. Each new school year will demand more from the student in the way of social appropriateness. These children often become angry and defiant with both peers and adults as the gap in their social inadequacy increases.
(There is research that suggests that a child who enters school with less than optimal amount of vocabulary often struggles with social acceptance and academic reward. Thus, setting the child up for academic challenges and negative beliefs about his own abilities before he is able to even understand what the problem is. Long term effects suggests that these early grade children often never recover to enjoy schooling or feel comfortable in an academic environment.)
If a child has a learning disability, that child will need additional assistance at both school and home. This is not only to help the child achieve academically, but also to help the child with possible issues of low self-esteem, anxiety, frustration, and seeing himself as a person who is less valuable than his peers. With support and guidance, the child can be successful and feel pleased with his achievements. It is important to work on discovering a strength these children have that they can enjoy outside of the academic setting. This will increase their internalized sense of self-worth and give motivation to strive for something they like doing–not the constant struggle with achieving in an arena that is often to meet others’ expectations. With intervention by both school and home, these children will be able to meet the social and academic demands when they become adolescents. Without intervention, the negative beliefs and feelings continue and often become self-defeating as the adolescent gets older.
At times a child or adolescent who is perfectionist or overachiever will become discouraged with their own perspective of a lack of success. Without intervention to understand themselves, these children can become academic failures as they often feel hopeless in trying to maintain the high standards they set for themselves.
For the adolescent who finds attendance at junior high or high school difficult, it is often an emotional response to something in the home. It seems as though seventh grade is often a time that is difficult for girls, while boys seem to have more problems with eighth and ninth grades. It is during these respective times that oppositional-defiant behaviors begin to emerge or be seen by adults. The tough exteriors begin to seep into the persona of the adolescent. When asked to recount when they think things in their lives changed, often both boys and girls can pinpoint a time a year or two prior to the grade or age when they started experiencing the problems. The student will often describe an event that lead her to believe that she was helpless or hopeless in changing something of emotional significance at home. This event can be as overt as a re-marriage or as seemingly insignificant as a family vacation that wasn’t to the student’s liking.
Adolescents who cope with any physical disability or anomaly will often feel estranged and rejected by peers. As much as they want to be in rebellion from their parents and look and act differently, adolescents have a need to be “just like everyone else.” For example: when an adolescent needs to wear a hearing aid, a brace, even glasses, he often feels that others are in judgment of him and are rejecting of him due to his perceived disfigurement. When an adolescent has to contend with such physical issues as acne, loss of hair, or birthmarks, they see themselves as “different,” which often leads them to believe that they are not as valuable or lovable as their peers. These teenagers often find themselves working very hard to just get out of bed in the morning and get themselves to school. If they are further hampered with self-esteem issues by obtaining low grades or not being able to find a “niche” to excel in at school, they will often want to minimize the importance of school and possibly dropout early. These adolescents need interventions by adults, including both parents and teachers, to provide opportunities to feel internally (emotionally) rewarded for their work and endeavors.
First: please determine who is the one struggling with “academic concerns.” Sometimes parents make the determination that a child or adolescent is doing poorly academically. If the child or adolescent seems satisfied with her academic achievement, perhaps it is the parent’s struggle rather than the child’s or adolescent’s. If this conflict continues for any length of time, it often sets up a relationship failure between parent and child. This might be a good time to speak with the child’s teachers, school counselors or school psychologist regarding appropriate achievement levels for the child.
Second: If the child or adolescent is concerned about academic success, and the parent has tried to intervene to help, but the child continues to struggle, it is time to seek professional assistance. The best place to start is at the child’s school. First check out the child or adolescent’s strengths and weaknesses according to their teachers. Making the child or adolescent a part of this process is often crucial to the success of the intervention. It’s important that their voice is heard and their needs met. If there appears to be an emotional component that is interfering with academic success, then professional mental health intervention might be indicated.
Educators really do want their students to be successful. Educators are appreciative of parents who want to help their child be an academic success while also being emotional and physically healthy.
© 2011: BEA Goldfeder