Don’t you just love the way that our brain works to try and understand concepts?
Sometimes when we don’t understand something we try and refer back to something in our brains that ‘something’ reminds us of. It is no surprise then that sometimes an adult might call a young dyslexic lazy if they see that young person trying to avoid doing school work or reading. Or they make statements about how clever the child is but they will never make it because they don’t work hard enough. We need to watch what we say as some young people will believe what you tell them and that will affect their mental health.
Equally, as supporters of dyslexic learners we need to empower our young dyslexics to rise above the comments and not believe the narrative before they start to adopt it.
What do you mean ‘adopting a narrative’?
This isn’t true for everyone, but if you tell someone that they are something they might start to believe it, especially if they don’t have another bit of evidence in their heads that leads them to another conclusion.
Let me give you an example, when I was in school, most years at parents evening, my teachers would tell my parents that I was smart, but could do better. I always tried to put loads of effort into my studies and sadly my attainment, whilst OK, was never as high as I wanted it to be. So I started to believe that given that I had tried so hard, clearly I wasn’t good enough. It didn’t matter how much effort I put in, I could always do better i.e I will never do well. I took that message with my into my adult life. It affected my self-esteem and I was always anxious about not being good enough. I would meet new people and automatically assume that they were better than me, rather than risk facing a disappointment later on down the road.
Now, I can’t blame my parents for how I felt as I never told them. I couldn’t really blame my teachers as I didn’t understand that I was having issues with processing information quickly enough for me to be engaged. To be fair, I don’t remember teachers asking me why it was that I seemed smart but my output was very average. It seemed to be assumed that I never put enough effort in.
In later life then, when I put in loads of effort, I never expected great outcomes and in many cases, I felt anxious about even putting me in that position so then I started to avoid certain scenarios such as cognitively heavy tasks.
There is a trick that I believe I probably missed, that I could have used to combat adopting the narratives that others put on me. I could simply stop listening to them and allow myself to see the truth. In this day and age it is so much harder for young people as there are messages being thrown at them about who they are or should be not only in the playground but on social media.
If you are a parent or a teacher, I would like to share with you some strategies that you could use to help a child (dyslexic or not) who are showing signs that they may have adopted a negative narrative about themselves.
1) Don’t tell them that they are wrong.
OK, just give yourself a second and let this sink in. Imagine you are with a child at home or school and they say “I can’t do this because I am stupid!”
The natural adult thing to say would be “You are not stupid!”. The logic here being that we believe in our kids and that it is not healthy for them to be announcing that they are stupid when clearly that is not the case…..and that is where the problem lies. Straight away we have told them that they are wrong but the reality is that they have just expressed what they are feeling. So in telling them that they are wrong, we are invalidating how they are feeling and have probably fallen into the trap of making them feel stupid.
What is more empowering is to let them explain why they think they are stupid without correcting them. We need to truly listen to what they have to say. Just by doing that, we are showing the child that we respect their thoughts and how they feel. The net effect is that we are helping them NOT to feel stupid about feeling like they are stupid. You are showing them that they are worth listening to and that you care. You are truly showing them their value. The more you do this the more they start to feel valued because you are empowering them to process what they feel about themselves. In doing this they might ask you for your opinion and with that invitation comes an eagerness to listen whereas in the previous scenario simply telling a child that they are not stupid doesn’t equate to being listen to. You are just being like the other adults who think that a child should adopt what they think.
2) Give them space to develop what they really think about themselves.
Often dyslexic kids can start to think that they are lazy or stupid in the absence of the evidence to the contrary. The evidence is there but they often just don’t see it.
As adults, we need to constantly praise young people for what they do that is great. We need to highlight those moments when they simply are not lazy or acting stupid. We need to help them to see that even if they are struggling with attainment at school in terms of what is written down on paper, there are plenty of other parts of their lives where they are able to demonstrate that they are not lazy or stupid and have great worth.
In doing this they are being faced with information that contradicts the narrative that they may have adopted. Eventually they will start to see that.
3) Good role modelling.
In many cases, if a child is dyslexic, there is a good chance that a parent is too. So as a parent, how do you feel about yourself? Do you enthusiastically tell your child that they are not stupid or lazy (or any other label) because actually you are feeling it from your own experience and you don’t want your child to feel the same? If you haven’t allowed yourself to deal with how narratives have landed on you then you are going to find that your child will see right through that. How can they not, you will be both feeling the same. People who feel the same somehow know this. They recognise behaviours and the way that they speak and it resonates strongly with them. It is the same for teachers actually, kids sense how a teacher feels about themselves and will use that knowledge to deflect attention away from themselves, often mercilessly!
We need to make sure that we are open to the process that we want our kids to be open to regarding feeling empowered, not listening to the negative comments of others and exploring what could be, rather than what we tell ourselves isn’t possible.
If this resonates with you and you feel that you would like to explore this topic further then I would be happy to talk with you on a one to one phone call (or web call) to help you make sense of what all this means for you and your child. I can be contact via my website by clicking the banner below.