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Filtering by Category: Parent Corner

The Blessing and Curse of Comparing

Monica Elias

Minutes after our children are born they take a test. Widely accepted, their Apgar scores tell us, this newborn appears in good health or there is reason for concern. The score is derived from knowing most healthy babies perform well on the Apgar, and if they falter on the Apgar, they often have problems. It’s statistics. Comparing our children to others can be critical to understanding them. But of course it’s not the whole story, it’s a quick indication of what may lie ahead.

Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree tells a gripping story of how his first-born did not fair well on the Apgar. After doctors whisked the new born away for a battery of tests prompted by leg inflexibility, they arrived at a conclusion: a leg cramp.

When I give a standardized speech-language test (and I really try not to) I’m looking for where a student stands compared to same age peers. It gives me some data, but again, not the whole picture. It is this part of an evaluation that parents, schools and lawyers want to know about most.  How many standard deviations from the norm are they? What is the cut-off for receiving paid services?

We’re told not to compare our children too much. Our kids are on different trajectories aiming and arriving at more or less the same destination. Whether the goal is sleeping through the night or reciting a sonnet, we’re told our kids will get there in time. Most parents know when their children stumble and struggle more than their classmates. They get them evaluated, to compare them to peers more formally.

Test results are scary—who wants their child defined by a set of numbers?

Results may tell us your child needs a little support, is on an alternate path from peers or needs a different X and Y-axis to chart success. This can be a painful realization, taking months to years.

Much of the world still puts all their eggs in the test basket as the only criteria for success. If, for example you ace the admissions test for Stuyvesant High School, you’re in. It’s irrelevant if you’ve performed at Carnegie Hall or are the class valedictorian.

We know tests don’t tell us the whole story, however when is comparing your child relevant? It is relevant to know the range of typical and if your child is in that range. If you don’t usually see your child among peers and have concerns, ask a teacher. They usually spend a lot more time with your child than you do. It can be a relief to know there is a slight articulation weakness as you suspected, or what is typical for a bilingual child. Test results do not solely define your child, just selected aspects of their growth.

I have a love-hate relationship with testing, mostly hate, to be honest. I am vehemently against the mountain of testing given in public schools. I had no idea conveying this to my son would result in his refusal to fill in any bubbles on a standardized test answer sheet. When asked why, he pointed to his reasons written on the answer sheet. The proctor went straight to the dean, and I considered homeschooling a decent option after they’d kick my son out.

Thankfully little fallout ensued.

I now hail loudly, ‘Do Your Best on the Stupid Test!’

Some tests are inane, some are helpful, and yes, some are necessary evils (think back to your SAT days). Giving the right one at the right time can make a world of difference. An evaluation for Speech and Language can explain frustrations and guide therapy. Results can ally fears, help families, and most importantly benefit your child. The next time your child, whether they’re 4 or 14, takes a standardized test, consider what the purpose is and how results will help them. It may well be a window into how they are learning and what they are capable of at this point in time.   

 

Monica Elias, MA CCC-SLP

(speech pathologist who occasionally administers tests).

Preparing Children for Middle and High School

Bill McCarthy

“Who will be in my class?“

“I hope I don’t have that teacher.”

“Is this year going to be as hard as last year?”

“I hear there is so much homework next year."

Anticipating the start to any school year provokes a sense of wonder, excitement, anxiety and uncertainty for most children. Can you relate to any of the questions and statements listed above?  If so, you are certainly not alone.  While graduating to the next level of education is a symbol of achievement and success for children, these events are often met with mixed emotions.  

When children enter middle and high school, the perceived stakes tend to be much greater, and children may react with heightened responses that had not been previously recognized.  Parents are often left wondering - How do I best prepare my child for this new chapter in life?  There is no easy answer to this question, and the most effective response can vary from family to family.  Parents often reflect back on their own experience entering middle and high school and can appreciate the emotions that children experience.  However, as adults, we sometimes forget or underestimate how impactful these hallmark moments were in our lives.  

As families approach these important transition points in a child’s education, it may be helpful  for parents to consider a few important points:

  • Create the space to talk about these experiences.  Schools will often provide families with a wonderful field guide about how to logistically navigate the first few weeks of school.  While it is important to be informed about dismissal protocols and homework policies, these “how to” manuals don’t offer much in terms of how to support children socially and emotionally.  Many parents pepper children with a series of questions after the first day of school and are disappointed when they receive little (if any) feedback from their children. Parents should demonstrate authentic interest in their child’s experiences during the first few days of school and be clear that they are there to listen whenever a child wants to discuss his or her experiences. Parents should never underestimate the power of listening to their children as this is the most effective tool in creating warm, supportive conversational spaces.

  • Reflect back what you think your child may be feeling about this experience.  Many children struggle with identifying their feelings while going through such experiences.  I consider parents to be experts on their child’s feelings, and it is important for parents to help children put words to what they may be experiencing.  Feelings, such as being excited, nervous, frustrated, and happy (yes, happy), are common while children are adjusting to the start to middle school or high school.  By actively listening to your child’s experience, you become better attuned to what he or she may be experiencing and can support your child in making deeper connections with the experience.

  • Be honest about your own feelings (without making this experience all about you). Children are not the only ones experiencing emotions during these moments. You are are allowed to have feelings too - as long as they don’t overshadow your child’s experience.  Watching children enter middle and high school can certainly provoke a number of emotions for parents, such as feeling great pride in this accomplishment to a sense of loss at your child becoming increasingly more independent.  It is important to be honest with yourself as you walk through these experiences.

  • Validate the wonderful and challenging parts of a new experience.  When people try something for the first time, they often bring to the experience a certain level of curiosity and apprehension.  It can be difficult to try something new, especially when it involves so many moving parts as middle and high school education does.  Parents should be mindful of how impactful the new experience of being a middle or high school student is and reflect this back to their children in a meaningful and constructive way.

  • Be patient.  All children make it through the first few weeks of middle and high school.  What may have seemed like an impossible challenge for your child two weeks ago has magically become something of the past.  As with listening, patience can not be underestimated as you support your child in these important transition points in school.  Living in the present and showing appreciation for this new experience are great ways to model patience for your child.

As we approach another beginning of the school year, I hope you and your family enjoy a wonderful, exciting and inspiring year ahead of you.  

Bill McCarthy is the Head of Pre and Lower School and former Director of Learning Support for grades K-12 at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, New York.  

 

5 Tricks for Easy Back-To-School

Rose Howell and Alexandra Mayzler

It’s hard to believe that August is almost over! Before you know it, the back-to-school rush will be upon us, and it never hurts to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Here are five simple ways to ease back into school mode.

1. Gradually adjust bedtimes

It is unlikely that your kids will be able to shift from a late summer bedtime to an 8:30pm bedtime right away. About two weeks before school, begin making bedtime about 15 minutes earlier so that they grow accustomed to the new schedule. Explain to your child that sleep is crucial for her health and should not be seen as a bummer, but a welcome relief. If parents begin to wind down at the same time, this will also help send the message that everyone is heading to bed, and they aren’t missing out on the action.

2. Decide on a morning routine and stick to it

Make a plan for showers, packing lunch, sports bags & homework, and eating breakfast. Have a chalkboard or whiteboard for your kids so they can make checklists about what they need to accomplish each morning. Make sure they know it’s important to come to breakfast right when it’s ready so they are not late. Having a set routine is the best way to combat the grogginess of early mornings.

3. Start the year with clear expectations

Sit down with your kids and lay out the rules for the coming school year when it comes to electronic usage, playdates or junk food. Make sure they have an understanding of what you expect of them.

4. Become acquainted with teachers and parents

You’ll feel more at ease sending your child off every day if you know the teacher and the class environment that he or she creates. It’s also nice to know a few parents who you can rely on in case of an emergency or for more convenient carpooling. Developing this familiarity with the school community is a great way to start the year, even if you don’t have time to attend as many events as you’d like.

5. Set up a clean, quiet workspace

Having a dedicated workspace gives students a sense of purpose and consistency when it’s time to do homework. Make sure they have a space just for them with the proper materials and supplies. If your child has ADHD and/or is especially distracted by noise and movement, ensure that his homework space is removed from any commotion.

Rose Howell is an Academic Liaison at Thinking Caps Group, a unique tutoring company that takes an individualized approach to creating independent learners.

Alexandra Mayzler is the founder of Thinking Caps Group. She is also the author of several books including ACT Demystified (McGraw-Hill 2013).