The Summer holidays are almost upon us and the dyslexic children in our care are going to be exhausted. This article explores what we can do to help them to rest up , recharge batteries but also re-focus ready for when the Autumn term hits.
Blimey! I can’t believe that we are at this stage again. The end of another academic year! In some ways this has come round so very quickly but in other ways for some parents this will have been a long and difficult year as they navigate the challenges that their dyslexic kids have been experiencing.
An academic year for a dyslexic child could be one of exhaustion, poor self-esteem, constant measuring of performance and facing academic tasks that often simply set up a dyslexic child to fail or at best require so much more effort in order to just keep up. That said, it won’t always have been a tough time, there will have been highlights within life at school where aspects of the curriculum being taught intersects with the strengths of your child. Little beacons of hope that stand out amongst the challenges as creative strengths or social skills or problem solving (and many others) come into play and our children shine.
Somehow as adults in the lives of dyslexic children we need to help those children to understand that whilst the school environment could be tough and might well play to their weaknesses, they do have skills and strengths that our world is crying out for. We need our children to see and treasure their strengths as these are the truthful indicators of their worth rather than the metric driven nature of our education system.
The upcoming six weeks holiday will be a time for relaxation but equally an opportunity for that essential mental preparation for the term ahead.
So what could you do to really make your child’s summer holidays recharge their batteries whilst also mentally prepare then for the next term?
Find and nurture their brilliant bits!
Sometimes a child with dyslexia who is struggling to keep up in school can start to find that their self-esteem drops a little (or a lot depending on the child) and when this happens it can be hard for a child to value what they are good at as it is always so easy to focus on the negatives in our lives. So we need to be clear on how we go about helping our children to see their ‘brilliant bits’.
Be specific in your communication.
So often as parent we want to affirm our children and we probably do this all the time, but we have to remember that our children will be recognising that as parents we will be wanting to do this regardless. So because of that, it’s possible that if we make affirming statements that are ambiguous in nature e.g. “I saw you playing football and you are really good at that aren’t you?” , then our children may not allow those comments to ‘count’ or be accepted as words that help them with feeling good about themselves. We need to be more specific on what we are commenting about and be realistic in what we share so that our children are not in any doubt about how they were ‘shining’.
An example of this clearer way of communicating could be:
“When you were playing football this afternoon, I noticed that you passed the ball a lot to your team mates. You showed great team working skills but you also showed how good you are at using strategy to get the ball past your opponents in order to win goals. Well done!”
When being this specific, your child will be required to believe your positive comments as they will be more credible as they are more objective in nature rather than subjective (biased) and this will help with self-esteem building.
Get them to recognise and articulate their skills.
Sometimes we want to tell our children how great they are but they may need time to process what has happened and if that hasn’t happened, no amount of telling is going to help. Often it can be more effective to stop and listen and allow our children to articulate what is happening for them so that they are able to recognise what happening and use that information to help them feel good about themselves.
Using the football example above…
Adult - “So tell me how you felt the football match went this afternoon.”
Child - “We lost the match so it was awful.”
Adult -”Yes, your team did lose, but what were some of the good bits for your team?”
Child - “We lost 3-2 so at least we got some goals. I helped set up one of the goals. That was good.”
Adult - “Talk me through what happened.”
Child - “I managed to tackle the ball from the other player but I couldn’t take the ball up the field to score so I realised it would be good to pass the ball to David who was near me. So I passed it to him and he passed it to Sam who was closer to the goal and he scored. I wanted to score but I wasn’t good enough to do it.”
Adult - “ Why couldn’t you take the ball up the field?”
Child - “I had three of their players trying to tackle me.”
Adult - “So how likely would it be for anyone to score in that situation?”
Child - “I guess probably unlikely. I had to pass the ball or I would have lost it!”
Adult - “So you made a decision that lead to a goal being scored?”
Child - “I guess. I had to think quickly as I was about to lose the ball. I saw David and I realised that he had more space to do something with the ball.”
Adult - “So you were in a tight spot but was able to think fast enough to do something that lead to a great result.”
Child - “Yes, I did do that didn’t I?”
Adult - “Yes you did. You showed that you were great with teamwork and problem solving skills. Well done you!”
Child - “Thanks!”
In the above example. the adult didn’t force their naturally supportive comments on the child. The child had time to explore what happened with them and the adult just chipped in with useful questions to help the child process what happened and what strengths they showed. By articulating it themselves the child is effectively ‘noting’ areas of their lives where they have strengths and this will stick with them especially when back at school struggling with difficult day to day activities.
Give them every opportunity to shine.
OK, I know what you are thinking… “The kids are on holiday but I'm not…”
It is hard sometimes to find the time to go to places and do activities that your child can enjoy. But if you are able to then they will have the opportunity to either learn in a way that engages them or simply demonstrate their strengths and skills.
If you are able to orchestrate your child’s activities such that they are playing to their strengths then that will boost their self-esteem and what’s more they will reinforce that they have value AND ability. So even when they go back to school in September they can be reminded of all those great things that they are capable of doing during the hardest of times in education. They will remember and maybe some of those activities can carry on through into the term.
For my daughters with SEN, hobbies in musical theatre and horse riding became passions that they engaged with when not in school. Looking forward to being able to do something that they enjoyed helped them with the stress of school. It took quite a while to find activities that worked for them in this way but they had such an effect! My oldest (who has ADHD) just got a 1st class degree in Equine Sports Science and my youngest has just finished year two of her musical theatre degree!
Exposure to self-doubt defeating activities pays dividends in terms of mental health. I think that this is why the smarter schools who understand dyslexia and SEN bias their activities and curriculum such that pupils with dyslexia have more self-affirming activities in place which somehow helps to offset the mental well being challenges of the national curriculum.
Key ingredients for making summer holidays essential for dyslexic pupils.
So I believe that for school holidays to be useful in gaining rest whilst also strengthening our children for the academic year ahead we need to :
Give our kids exposure to activities where learning is fun and the chance of being great at them is realistic.
Help our kids to develop skills in articulating what they are good at as this will help them to start believing in themselves.
Be prepared to step back from informing our kids on how good they are and give our kids space to articulate how good they think they are through the use of questions that encourage the child to think objectively and truthfully about their abilities.