Q: I am worried about my child’s ability to keep up in school. What can I do? Is this even something a pediatrician can help with?
A: School is our children’s full-time “job,” so it’s important to us as parents and as pediatricians to take an active role when needed. My first suggestion is that you be your child’s biggest advocate. For a variety of reasons, no matter the age of your child (kindergarten or high-school student), they are unlikely to successfully advocate for themselves in their academic life. Thus, you are their first line of defense. Here are some tips:
• Be involved: Ask them about their day. Ask them what they’re learning about. Ask them what their assignments are. Let them learn to expect that you’ll be doing this.
• Follow through: If they express a concern, make sure to talk to their teacher(s). Make sure that they know that you’ve done this; it demonstrates to your child how important this is.
• Don’t be paralyzed by your own academic difficulties as a child, if you had them. Your most important job is to advocate for them, not to be their tutor.
• Avoid blaming/over-criticizing your child; let them know that you’re behind them, but also avoid the pitfall of blaming a “bad” teacher. Whether you think the teacher is at fault or not, blaming them isn’t going to help your child.
• Homework organization. Carolina Parent had a nice summary in its August 2014 edition about using your adult skill set to help children stay organized: maximize short bursts of attention, throw out unnecessary papers, plan the next day’s activities, keep assignments organized.
If you are concerned about how your child is doing, act early. Arrange a meeting with the teacher and/or administrator. Let them know what your concerns are and ask what can be done at home and at school to help your child learn better.
If you do not think the school is providing adequate resources, get your pediatrician involved. Often, a letter from the physician can serve to grease the wheels to get services in place or to at least get an evaluation done. Make sure that you grant permission for the results to be shared with your child’s doctor and make sure you keep a copy of the evaluation with you to bring to appointments. If services are promised and not delivered, make sure to let your pediatrician know, as either they or their team members can advocate for you and your child at the school.
Roles that the pediatrician can play:
• Advocating for services: speech therapy, occupational therapy, longer test time, testing for learning disabilities.
• Screening for ADHD, anxiety, depression, and referrals/treatment if needed.
• Reinforce the importance of your child’s education by discussing it at visits.
• Source of ideas: Chances are, we’ve seen it before!
One final tip: Check out ecac-parentcenter.org. This is a site geared toward families in NC who have concerns about their child’s educational services and rights.
Special thanks to Barbara Donadio, nurse clinician at Duke Children’s Primary Care.
Brian Eichner is a general pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke Children's Primary Care and medical director of the Duke Pediatric Diagnostic Clinic.