When a teacher reports that a child is not progressing or fulfilling her potential at school, the parents suddenly have to face the emotional and turbulent challenge of exploring what the problem might be. Given that up to 20 percent of pupils develop problems with learning, schools have experience year on year with strategies that can help. Teachers also have a professional interest in catering to all the children in their class and over time come to understand each child’s strengths and weaknesses. It should therefore be taken seriously if they express concern, but do not assume your child is suffering – the teacher may be trying to alert you in order to put external support into place, so your child will struggle less in the future.
Many parents hope early problems will go away – “He will grow out of it”; “I was terrible at spelling, too” – or react defensively, perhaps by deciding to change languages or systems to try to find another teacher or school where their child will belong. Before you take such a step, I recommend sitting down to observe or hear what the real issue is in the classroom, and to discuss it, with examples of your child’s work in front of you, in order to understand what the teacher means. Changing classes or schools might only introduce more delay in understanding what a potential problem is.
Children who have a diagnosable learning difficulty are not just facing challenges that require extra help for a short period of time. Some children need specialised help even to really understand exactly how the problem affects their learning. I recommend that parents try to work with people who have experience with the particular problems your child faces. If assessed as having special needs, the child might thrive with an individual programme of learning support and be able to stay in a mainstream school, thereby keeping friends and not having to move schools. One challenge, if you are an expat in Switzerland, is preventing years of struggle and self-doubt while trying to establish an individual programme that will suit your child and that you can afford.
During early childhood, signs that a child is uninterested in learning can easily be attributed to developmental differences or individual character. A good preschool will give you enough information for you to determine whether early assessment is worthwhile. Beyond kindergarten, specific problems with reading, writing, maths or behaviour should be defined and given close attention. This is not so your child can be labelled as “having problems,” but so that a specific issue does not get blown out of proportion or lead to judgements about the child’s intelligence. Building your child’s character and confidence is much more important than agonizing about a specific learning need that he or she has. If it takes too long to decide what to do, or regular reviews are not given to you based on your child’s observed achievements at school, long periods can go by without his making progress, and this can undermine a child’s confidence.
Kind people who get involved without experience or appropriate skills, even with the best intentions, can simply prolong battles and arguments rather than facilitating a supportive process. So choose professionals you respect and who will keep the interests of your child firmly at the fore. Keep your friends as friends, and try to find specialists who will throw light on your child’s problems.