As a parent, hearing this news generally leaves you feeling distressed, perplexed and sometimes angry.  

Typical reactions include:

  • The teacher doesn’t understand my child.
  • How is this going to appear to other parents or my family members?
  • Is my child the only one having these difficulties?
  • Why don’t I see this at home?
  • Why isn’t the school doing something about it?
  • What does this mean for my child’s future?

Rest assured, these are all very natural responses.

Your Child Isn’t Alone

Many children, for a variety reasons, may struggle with aspects of school, including learning the rules and expectations, regulating their behaviour, and keeping up with the curriculum.  What’s reassuring is that with the proper supports, your child can be happy and successful in school.

It’s very common for children to behave differently at home and at school.  The expectations between the settings are very different. But, if your child’s difficulties are impacting his/her happiness, academic success and/or self-esteem, it may be time to ask for help.

So what now?

Establish a Productive Parent/Teacher Relationship

There are always options parents consider when finding out that their child is struggling at school.  Many decide to take a “wait and see” approach particularly if the child is still young and developing.  It’s important to stay in communication with your child’s teacher and to take note of any changes (improvements or otherwise) over the course of the year.  

A whole year?!  That sounds like an eternity.  Conversations with the teacher should include what strategies are being put in place to support your child now.  Teachers have a lot of experience in knowing what to expect from children in that grade and generally have your child’s best interests at heart.  Strategies might include having the teacher work more individually or in a small group with your child, consultation with other school personnel with various areas of expertise, and accessing supports in the schools.  Make a list of questions you want to ask your child’s teacher before your parent-teacher interview, and be sure to share your perspective on your child. After all, as the parent, you know your child best!

Take Advantage of the School Support Team

If your child continues to be of concern to school staff, you might be asked if the school can discuss your child’s needs at a team meeting that involves educators with expertise in special education, and sometimes a psychologist, speech-language pathologist, social worker, and/or child youth counsellor may be present to lend their expertise. Your heart is probably racing now.  Why are all those people involved in my child’s life and is this serious? Each professional brings a unique perspective in how to assist your child. At this meeting, recommendations might be made to address whatever the concerns are, whether your child is having trouble learning, or trouble following school rules or trouble making friends. The recommendations of the team should be communicated to you with a clear plan for how this will be implemented in the classroom.  

Consider a Psychological Assessment

On occasion, there is a recommendation for psychological assessment or a psychoeducational assessment.  Don’t Panic!! The school may provide this service to find out why your child is struggling in a particular area and what other interventions could possibly be helpful. Sometimes, assessments are suggested to find out if your child has a Learning Disability, or another diagnosis that may help to explain their behaviour, such as ADHD, Autism, or Anxiety Disorder. If an assessment is recommended, ideal practices would include you as the parent meeting with the professional who would be working with your child. You would have a chance to ask questions so that you understand what to expect.  Parents have a right to decline services. Some parents may feel that they want to give their child more time to show improvement. Or some parents prefer to go and obtain assistance from private psychologists because of long wait lists in schools or other concerns.  

Stay tuned for my next article with guidance on  how to explain assessment to your child and what to do with the assessment results. If you have questions about the assessment process or wish to book a consultation, please contact me.

About Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar

Registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) since 2003, Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar is licensed by the College of Psychologists of Ontario to work with children, adolescents and families. She currently works for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board in Mississauga and also provides psychological services to children and adolescents through her private practice, Hummingbird Child Psychology.