“I felt very confused and dumb.” An eighth-grade Springer student used these words recalling his experience in kindergarten and first grade.
Rachel Eccles, LPCC-S, Springer's Counselor and Student Life Coordinator, sees the correlation between mental health, and attention and learning differences in her day-to-day interactions with students. Here she explains the nature of that correlation and how parents can look for signs of distress and be supportive.
It begins with understanding how children develop from a very young age.
From infancy, children learn by watching others. Rachel explains, “The peer-to-peer is so important because that’s how we learn to walk, to talk.” Continuing, she helps make the connection between what our children observe and experience throughout their younger developing years.
By the time they get to school, they’re watching other kids do things with ease, while they themselves are struggling. They’re watching other kids read and don’t know why they cannot. They’re watching kids do math quite easily and doing math facts with no problem and yet they’re seeing that it is not that easy for themselves. They wonder “Why? What’s wrong? What’s wrong with ME?”
That leads to low self-worth, a lot of anxieties, and a lot of worries. They experience feelings of “Why, what am I doing wrong? What am I missing?”
Kids with ADHD lack impulse control, meaning their bodies often can’t sit still and follow regular classroom tasks like standing in line. It doesn’t mean that they do not want to, or are choosing not to--but can’t. The experience leads to a lot of different feelings and emotions, and a lot of disappointment.
Signs parents may see in their own struggling child are low self-worth, anxiety, some disruptive behavior or acting out in the classroom, and maybe some overall introversion. For example, children may awful about themselves and then disassociate from other kids or feel like they don’t want to interact with others in the school setting--all because they feel like they can’t.
Rachel goes on to explain how learning and attention difficulties impact even the social lives of children.
Executive functioning (EF) really overlaps with social functioning. You need a lot of EF skills to read a social situation: read what another is saying, how they’re saying it, understand the context, and respond appropriately. Some neurotypical kids do this with ease. If children struggle with making friends they can feel isolated, not only in the academic world but in the social lunch-recess world.
So mental health and EF go hand in hand. If you have a deficit the feelings come as a result.
What kinds of things can parents do to be supportive?
Be open and honest with your child, speaking to them in an age-appropriate way. A lot of the time we want to be strong for our children and not show our struggles and our vulnerabilities but remember, children learn by seeing, watching and observing. It goes without saying that you wouldn’t talk to your child the way you talk to your own therapist, but you can share the universal feelings of sadness, frustration, and happiness, etc.
This can be done by intentionally being open with your feelings, and having feelings and struggles be a conversation at the dinner table. Sharing demonstrates that everybody struggles in their own way, maybe in different areas. Be open about how you feel about your struggles and then encourage your children to be open in their struggles. You can help them understand that it’s ok to feel sad or to feel angry.
Rachel even has an easy conversation prompt that can be used at the dinner table. She calls it 3 positive, 3 negative. Everyone shares three positive things and three negative things about their day. Rachel emphasizes, “Three is a lot!” It really makes you reflect on your day. Everybody at the table is doing it and it’s very cathartic when everyone is sharing. Eventually you’ll get more than the usual “Okay, my day was fine." You might get some resistance at first, so keep at it. The repetition and stability is very important.
Seek help when you notice these kinds of struggles. We have a great team at Springer who can help with learning disabilities. In addition to our school for grades 1-9, we offer programs to educate parents, provide tutoring services, and will soon be offering educational evaluations.
Outpatient counseling is another option--find someone to talk to if you see the tears, the frustrations, and the behaviors. Therapy can be very helpful and there is very little downside to having someone be 100% on your child’s side!
Rachel Eccles provided the content for this week's blog post. Rachel Eccles is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with Supervision Designation and Counselor and Student Life Coordinator at Springer School and Center. She also offers counseling as part of Springer’s Therapy & Tutoring services.