parenting tips

Nurturing Your Child's Inner Superpower!

Everyone has an inner superpower! It’s that thing you do so easily and so well that you don’t even think of it as a talent or a skill that someone else can’t do. It is innately part of you and you would have a tough time defining yourself or imagining life without it. 

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For some, their superpower is an obvious talent such as dancing, sports or art, but for others, it may be more subtle. For example, you may be particularly charismatic, or funny or a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about a particular subject. Whatever it is, it is your strength and your gift to the world.

Dyslexic children often find it more challenging to discover their superpower because it gets lost in the struggle of learning to read. They find themselves so overwhelmed by the challenge of trying to read that they forget that they are also blessed with gifts. Ironically, their dyslexic brain is generally the reason that they have this gift. Dyslexics tend to be particularly blessed with creative or athletic abilities and/or big ideas. However, it’s often later in life that they are able to recognize and celebrate their gifts.

As the parent of a struggling student, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the need to support your child’s weaknesses, and there is a tendency to forget to equally support their strengths. Afternoons that would normally be filled with playdates, athletics or singing lessons become consumed by homework and tutoring sessions. It’s no surprise that our children become completely overwhelmed themselves by the struggle of it all. They already have to work ten times harder than the typical learner, but the end of the school day is never the end of the work day for them. Homework that takes a typical learner an hour to complete, takes them at least two, if not three — and even then, it’s filled with frustration and confusion. It’s rare that all that effort put forth is rewarded with a good grade or a even a pat on the back, so it’s no wonder that many get frustrated to the point of giving up.

So what can WE do as parents if we want to help our children recognize their inner superpower before the struggle overwhelms their spirit? First, get your child the support he or she needs as early as possible, but most importantly, make sure their world is not all about supporting their weaknesses — tutoring, summer school and after-school help. Balance is essential if you want them to stay engaged and invested in the process. Make every effort to identify what gets them excited and energized! Everyone has at least one thing that gets them pumped to get out of bed in the morning. Create space for your dyslexic child to not only explore their passion, but also invest in it. Put as much energy into nurturing their superpower as you do their weakness. If you do, you will probably be surprised to find that your child discovers the inner strength needed to conquer their weaknesses as they are able to appreciate that they are capable of doing great things.  

As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” Even though your child may have to work twice as hard as the typical learner, the lessons he will learn by virtue of hard work will provide him with essential tools for success in life. However, without support, encouragement and awareness of strength, he may never develop the self-confidence needed to strive towards his potential.

Very few can develop a healthy self-esteem in the absence of accomplishment. So, even though reading support is an essential for these little darlings, losing sight of the big picture and your child’s gift may cause their little light to dim… or worse extinguish. Give them the gift of your support and love while nurturing their inner spirit and discovering their inner superpower. The day they become their own superhero is the day the door to endless possibilities will open.

You Mean, I Actually Need to Read My Child’s IEP Before I Sign It?

A lot of parents feel that once they have their child’s IEP in hand, their work is done. All they have to do is sign and submit. What they don’t realize or even consider is that there are often errors and/or misinformation that require adjustment. The most important reason to review your child’s IEP prior to signing, however, is to fully understand what the Team is proposing with regard to accommodations, goals and services. It’s one thing to walk away from a meeting feeling like the Team understands what your child needs. It’s another thing entirely to agree to the plan in writing.

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When you leave your child’s Team meeting, you will likely have a basic understanding of what will be included in your child’s IEP and, typically, you will receive a copy of the meeting notes so you can confirm that the Team’s understanding of what was stated matches your own. However, I often find that the goals/benchmarks/objectives stated in the IEP are too general or are not measurable. It is important that your child’s goals are S.M.A.R.T. goals, which stands for:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Uses Action Words
R – Relevant
T- Time-limited

It is also vitally important that your child’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance are correctly stated. If it’s not abundantly clear where your child’s current strengths and weaknesses are, how can you possibly measure progress? The present levels establish the baseline or foundation from which all progress is measured. If the present levels do not accurately represent your child’s current performance, it will be hard to determine if the services in place are effective and are allowing your child to make progress.

Another important reason to read through your child’s IEP is to make sure that your Parent Concerns accurately reflect your worries and concerns for your child. This is the place for you to establish a history of expressing concern about your child’s areas of weakness to the school. This section of an IEP is often underutilized, but if done well, can establish the foundation for indicating concern well before the issues are even addressed by the school. Should you ever need to file for Due Process, this history will serve you well. I always recommend letting the Team Chairperson know that you would like to send your Parent Concerns via email within 2-3 days of the Team meeting so you have some time to reflect on the outcome of the meeting and any new concerns that may come up. However, make sure that you follow through with what you say you will do. You don't want to be the one responsible for holding up the process.

Above are just a few of the many reasons why you should not only read through, but fully understand your child’s IEP. Once you accept and sign the IEP document, you are stating that you agree with the proposed plan for your child. Never should you just trust that the school has your child’s best interest in mind. You must become well-informed so you can successfully advocate for your child. Remember, you know your child best and you are your child’s best advocate. Trust your instincts and know your child's plan.

My First Grader Can't Read! At What Point Should I be Worried?

If you’re anything like me, you grabbed every opportunity you could to read with your children when they were young. As soon as they were old enough, I started shifting from exclusively reading to them to reading with them. For my daughter, reading came pretty easily, but for my son, there were some early indicators that he would struggle later on. As a mom with zero experience with dyslexia at the time, I had no idea that the struggles he was experiencing were red flags that he had a reading disability.

Even though my son was diagnosed by second grade, getting him the right interventions by kindergarten or first grade could have prevented some of the academic, social and emotional challenges he encountered. Now that I am a dyslexia advocate, I want to share some of those early warning signs with you, so you can start asking yourself the important questions before self-confidence, academic and social issues set in for your child.

  1. Your child struggles significantly to name the letters of the alphabet – When I was two years old, my mom said that I knew all of my letters. By four, I was reading like a champ, so I fully expected that my own children would have a similar experience. While my daughter picked up her letters quite easily, for my son, it was a constant struggle. The letters he knew one day, he seemed to forget the next — and when he attempted to name the letters, it was labored, slow and definitely not automatic.
     
  2. Your child skips/replaces words – When I used to read even the simplest of books with my son, I would find that he would skip entire words or phrases. I would have to redirect him to back to the words he skipped because without them, the sentence held a different meaning. 
     
  3. Your child doesn’t recognize words that he read correctly in the prior sentence – The practice that confounded me the most was my son’s inability to recognize words that he had read correctly in the prior sentence or on the prior page. It was as if he had never seen them before. Words like “for”, “the” and “in” were completely daunting for him. I could tell that he was equally as frustrated by the experience.
     
  4. When reading, your child uses context clues rather than decoding strategies to figure out the words - In other words, your child depends on the pictures to determine what the word is. Typically, my son would be able to get the first letter or groups of letters correct but would guess at the rest. When I knew for certain that he was using this strategy, he tried to read the word “rug”, but after looking at the illustration at the top of the page, he said the word “carpet”. I knew in that moment that he was depending entirely on the pictures rather than decoding strategies to determine the words he was trying to read. While pictures can be helpful tools when children are first learning to read, once they are decoding in kindergarten and first grade, dependence on pictures will likely prevent or delay a child from learning how to break down and decode words.
     
  5. Your child memorizes entire books or pages of books to feign reading – When I realized that my son was doing this, it was a huge aha moment for me. I remember the day distinctly! He brought home several books from school called “Buddy Books”. He was super excited to show me how well he could read each and every one of them. I sat in amazement as he blew through each book with ease! On one hand, I wanted to celebrate this milestone met... and we did. However, on the other, I knew something wasn’t right, so I took my little guy down to the library and we chose some books of the same level as his Buddy Books from the shelf. With trepidation, I opened the first book and asked my son if he could read it to me. I then watched with sadness as my suspicions were confirmed — my son had memorized each and every Buddy Book. He wasn’t reading at all! That moment was both heartbreaking and eye-opening. Memorizing is a common coping strategy for dyslexic children. Dyslexics are typically very smart — average to above-average intelligence — and they are very adept at discovering ways to get around their areas of weakness. My son would use his exceptional memory to help him feign reading. Even his teachers were convinced that he was actually decoding the books in front of him... but he wasn't.

Once we had our son evaluated, we realized that although he had a gifted IQ, he had weak phonological awareness and poor rapid naming skills. His many strengths helped him compensate fairly well, but his weaknesses prevented him from making adequate progress as time went on. Dyslexia is often missed by parents and teachers until middle school because kids can be so good at masking their weaknesses. That is, until their coping strategies fall apart as the content increases in complexity. That is why... time is of the essence! If a child is not identified until middle school or later, it becomes almost impossible for them to close the gap.

I wrote this piece was so you will have the information and the tools you will need to take the appropriate steps to get your child evaluated. Each and every year that goes by without a proper diagnosis can lead to academic stress, progress gaps and self-esteem issues. Had I not had a friend who was an advocate at the time my son was struggling in school, things may have turned out very differently. It was MY advocate who told me not to waste any more time and to have my son evaluated... and I'm so very glad she did. My son's future is forever changed because we took action early.

I am happy to report that because my son received the help he needed by third grade, he is doing amazingly well now. As a rising sixth grader, he is reading above-grade level and loves school. However, if we had taken action even earlier, we could have prevented our son from enduring unnecessary pain and struggle. Although we did what we could with what we knew at the time, acting even earlier could have spared my son feelings of stupidity and failure. As well, he may not have had to make up for lost time. That said, I am grateful that we took the steps we did early enough to make a difference and his future is ever changed because of it.

As a dyslexia advocate, I don’t want to watch one more family go down the road of wait and see. Far too often, my clients tell me that their child’s teacher told them to allow their child time to catch up. Research tells us that dyslexic kids will never “catch up” on their own without the right interventions and explicit instruction, so it is vital that you have your child tested as soon as you suspect that he or she is struggling.

Don't accept the explanation that your child just needs time to mature. You are your child's best advocate! If you feel like something is not right, act now! If you would like to receive my free parent's guide so you can determine if your child requires further testing and take the steps to get your child evaluated, please download my "Is My Child At-Risk for Developing a Reading Disability?" guide below.


Want to take more action to
protect your child's self-esteem and academic future?

If your child is showing signs of at least 2 of the 5 red flags above, please download my free parent's guide "Is My Child At-Risk for Developing a Reading Disability?". In it, you will receive the following:

  1. Dyslexia Checklist - A warning sign checklist for dyslexia.

  2. Teacher Cheat Sheet - A guide to help your child's teacher get to know your child the way you do!

  3. Sample Letter: Request for a Special Education Evaluation - Should you decide to have your child tested by the school, use this sample letter to request that your child be evaluated for special education.

Please don't just wait and see!
Download this guide so you don't miss the chance to help your child before they start to struggle in school.

Should I Hold My Kindergartner/First Grader Back in School if He Can’t Read?

You may be in the tough position of deciding whether or not to hold your child back a grade level in order to catch up in reading. For most parents, the challenge is determining whether to advance their child to the next grade even if he or she has not mastered the curriculum of the current grade. This practice is known as “social promotion”. The problem is that retaining a child will often do more harm than good.

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What Does the Research Tell Us?

The 2003 “Position Statement on Student Grade Retention,” from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) states that the majority of studies conducted over the past four decades on the effectiveness of grade retention fail to support its efficacy in remediating academic deficits. When compared to promoted students of the same age, retained students achieve at a slower rate and the achievement gains associated with retention often fade within just a few years after the repeated grade. In fact, many students who experience retention are traumatized and are far more likely to drop out of school as a result.

So if the research shows that students are not better off as a result of retention, why is this practice of retaining students actually gaining in popularity? Some would suggest that high-stakes standardized testing and the introduction of Common Core standards is to blame. There may be increased pressure on teachers to hold back students who have not met grade-level expectations. Behavior problems can also be a reason for retention, but let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. If your child is bright, but is not progressing as quickly as his peers, might he begin to act out to either get more attention or divert attention away from his learning challenges? When behavior is the reason for concern, I often suggest looking at when the behavior problems began and if they are isolated to one subject/teacher/classroom. If you can isolate the behavior problems to certain set of circumstances, it is likely that your child is simply acting out because he is getting frustrated and/or is not getting what he needs to succeed. Retention, in this case, will only exacerbate the problem.

For most children who have received adequate instruction, but are not yet reading at grade-level, repeating the same ineffective teaching methods will only reinforce for your child the idea that he or she is “stupid”. The psychological effects can be quite damaging. In fact, failing a grade was rated the third most stressful event imagined in a student's life; losing a parent and going blind were rated one and two (Shepard & Smith, 1990). For most struggling readers, progress will only be made if they are provided with multi-sensory, evidence-based, small-group instruction.

Andrew’s Story of Success

My very bright son, Andrew, was not reading in first grade, but most of his classmates were. He loved school, but as the year went on, his passion for learning started to diminish. During silent reading time, his teachers would let him “play”, which only caused him to feel more different and isolated. When I began to inquire as to why he was not progressing, his teachers initially dismissed my concerns and told me that he just needed more time. However, as time progressed, they too began to grow concerned. At first, my son was pulled out of the classroom five times per week to read with a general education teacher. Andrew was very well aware that he was one of the only students getting this extra reading support. So, the fact that he was making little to no progress despite getting extra help only reinforced his feelings of frustration and self-doubt.

Before even contemplating retention, we decided to have our son tested, which only confirmed our suspicions that he is dyslexic. In fact, not only is he dyslexic, but he is also considered gifted. Consider for a minute what a child must say to himself if and when he is retained. Since many measure intelligence by one's ability to read, do you think a gifted but struggling reader would see himself as capable of greatness, if held back a year? Probably not. Simply retaining Andrew would also not have provided him with access to the one-on-one specialized instruction he needed to make effective progress. Fortunately, we were able to place him in a specialized school for children with language-based learning differences and provided him with evidence-based instruction. After spending two years at the Landmark School, Andrew transitioned to our local charter school, is reading above grade-level and loves school again!

Possible Alternate Outcome…

Now, let’s take my son Andrew’s story and imagine the outcome if he had been held back a year in school instead of advancing with his peers. In this scenario, Andrew finishes first grade. Most his friends are now reading, but Andrew is told that he will have to repeat the same grade that he just struggled to complete. He begins the new school year and sees his friends advance to the next grade and meet their new teachers. Andrew, however, finds himself in familiar territory, already feeling defeated. As Andrew navigates the year, he watches his new classmates begin to make progress with their reading. Andrew, however, continues to struggle and makes little advancement. Not only is he forced to watch a new group of students sail past him in reading, but he has to accept the fact that he is still struggling himself. Do you think he would continue to feel motivated to try? Do you think holding him back would better prepare him for the following school year or would it just cause him to second guess himself and doubt that academic success is even possible for him?

In the alternate outcome above, retention would likely not have solved the problem. In fact, it probably would have only made it worse. Retention can actually prevent academic success, can further self-doubt and may even cause your child to give up and drop out of school at some point. Therefore, it is vitally important that you determine the cause for the lack of progress and not just assume that a child will benefit from more of the same.

 

Questions to Ask Yourself

1. Is your child spending adequate time on homework?

2. Does your child have a calm, quiet place to work?

3. Is your child getting proper nutrition and sufficient sleep?

4. Are you regularly communicating with your child’s teachers?

5. Is your child struggling in all academic areas or is he/she primarily struggling to read/write/spell?

6. Have you had your child tested for a learning disability/difference?

 

Questions to Ask the School

1. Ask which intervention(s) your child is receiving and in addition, the studies that show its effectiveness.

2. Request a copy of the progress-monitoring graph after each assessment to determine if the intervention is effective.

3. If you have given the current intervention some time to work and you are not seeing progress, ask whether other interventions are available.

4. If your child were to be retained, ask if the instruction/interventions would be different. If your child is not making effective progress and would continue to receive the same instruction or similar interventions, if retained, chances are that “doing it over again” would have little positive impact but could, in fact, negatively affect your child’s self-image and academic future.

5. It is your right to request at any time that your child be evaluated for special education.

 

Each school district has it’s own retention policy so consult with your school district to find out how it is addressed. If you feel you must retain your child in school, remember that it rarely ends up being a positive experience after fourth grade, so the younger, the better. Make sure that you request that your child be evaluated so you can better understand the reasons for your child’s academic, behavioral or emotional difficulties.

Alternatives to Grade Retention

If you are opposed to or conflicted about grade retention, consider the following… school testing and/or an independent evaluation may reveal areas of weakness that will give you and your teacher much needed information. Summer school can offer a boost or may allow your child the opportunity to catch up without the need to stay back a year. As well, your child may benefit from receiving counseling so he can feel comfortable sharing his thoughts or frustrations with a caring adult. Finally, make sure that you open the lines of communication with your child. Get a sense from him as to why the problems exist and make him part of the solution. If your child is feeling out-of-control or powerless, it can cause your child to decline further. However, if you involve your child in the process and let him know that his feelings matter to you, you will give him an opportunity to feel more in control and valued.


If you have a kindergartener, first grader or second grader who is struggling to read and you are trying to decide what you should do to help him or her, please sign up for my FREE training below.

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Amy is a certified dyslexia advocate and also teaches parents how to successfully advocate for their own children's academic success.


6 Tips for Keeping Your Child Motivated to Finish the Year Strong!

When the end of the school year comes around, it can be hard to keep momentum going... especially if it has been a tough year academically and/or socially. Everyone (both kids and parents) starts focusing on summer, camp and vacation time! Here are six tips to keep the energy high as the year comes to a close.

1. Set Specific Goals for the End of the Year - We all think to set goals at the start of the year, but rarely at the end. It is equally important to reevaluate throughout the year as well. Setting a realistic year-end goal and a plan to achieve it will allow your child to feel great about his accomplishment once the year comes to a close. This is especially important to do if your child set a goal that he or she is not on track to accomplish. It is never too late to reevaluate and set a new one.

2. Set Reasonable Goals That are Not Tied to Grades – There is nothing more un-motivating than trying to achieve a specific grade in school when you are a struggling student.  Instead, help your child set goals that are tied to effort rather than a grade letter. For example, if your child makes careless homework/test mistakes, encourage him to double and triple-check his work, assuming time allows. If he does this consistently, his grades will likely improve naturally. But even if they don’t, double and triple-checking your work is a life skill that needs to be mastered — and the earlier your child learns this skill, the better. If you notice your child taking the time to review his work, make sure you set up a reward system such as picking the family movie, or choosing a family activity to reward the effort. We can only expect a child to do his/her best work. Rewarding your child for hard work will boost self-esteem and will serve your child for years to come.

3. Equipment Repair/Replace – I don’t know about you, but I do my best work when my office is neat and tidy and my supplies are well-stocked and accessible. The same holds true for kids! Over the year, their equipment may have broken down a bit (ie. torn folders/binders, pencils without erasers, missing pens etc.). It’s important to restock or repair, if necessary, so your child has the necessary tools for success. Make sure that the supplies he or she needs are available and are in good repair.

4. Take Advantage of the Nice Weather - Get outside and get some activity! Allowing your child to do his homework outside is a helpful way to motivate your child when the sun is shining! Remember, your child has been cooped up inside all day. Allowing him to get some fresh air and frequent "run in the sun" breaks will help your child stay motivated to get the work done. No one said "homework has to be done at home. Although some homework is best completed at a desk or computer, other assignments allow for a bit more location-flexibility. While it’s important to make sure that your child is provided with a good working environment, it’s also important to make homework fun! Take your child to the park or the beach so the reward is visible when the assignment is all done! I happen to love curling up under a tree to read a good book. In fact, if you follow my next tip, you can bring along your own book [and lead by example] to make it a family affair.

5. Lead by Example – Our children learn from us first. If you are talking about summer vacation and how much you can’t wait for school to be over, your child’s focus will shift as well. You have to remember that your words carry a lot of weight. Remain consistent in your message that school is important. Remain positive! Highlight some of the fun school events and activities coming down the road to keep your child excited and motivated. On those days that you just can’t get summer off of your mind, see tip three and get your children outside for some outdoor study time!

6. Stick to a Consistent Bedtime! It can be tough to enforce a reasonable bedtime when it’s still light outside, but it’s very important that your child stay consistent with his bedtime routine. Sleep is essential to learning and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is vital to your child's physical and emotional well-being.

It can be hard for anyone to stay motivated when they are nearing the end of something, but in order to finish strong, you must put your best foot forward… until the very last step!

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