In the eleven years since the founding of Project Y.E.S., a stunning forty percent of the parents who call our office or reach out to me privately for assistance, request help with school placements – many of them in crisis mode as their child was asked to leave school in mid-year or were informed that their child would not be permitted to return to their current setting for the upcoming school year. During the summer months, there is generally a significant spike in calls of this nature as many parents find their children without a school placement for Elul. In this column and the next one that will appear in this space, I will do my best to offer guidance to parents who may find themselves in that predicament. I hope that you find them helpful.
There are basically three reasons why your child underachieved in the current school setting: a) the shortcomings of the school your child is currently attending, b) educational or social challenges that may be present, or c) poor chemistry between your child (family) and the current school.
Begin by focusing on the second of the categories, your child’s learning and social profile – as understanding that component will help you address the other two segments more easily. I say this because it is not uncommon for parents to switch their child’s school only to discover later that the issues that complicated their child’s experience in the initial school followed him (or her – to make things simpler, I will use male gender only for these columns) to the new setting.
Explore the learning profile of your son in order to better understand the challenges that he faced in the past. Is he a visual, auditory or textual learner? Is he being taught in a manner that is congruent with his learning pattern? Does he have attention deficit issues? Does he have impulse control challenges? Does he have difficulty responding to authority figures? On a more positive note; was there a particular year where he had remarkable success, and, if so what were the conditions that facilitated those accomplishments? (In years past, I wrote a number of columns on the topics of learning profiles and A.D.D. Links to those articles can be found at the bottom of this article.)
Consider getting an educational evaluation from a credentialed professional. Most school districts in the United States offer free educational/psychological assessments of students – including those who attend non-public schools. Your child’s principal or the director of special services can usually direct you to the appropriate office to arrange for an evaluation to be done. If you are finding it difficult to access district services, consider contacting Mrs. Leah Steinberg, Director of Agudath Israel’s Project LEARN (Limud Education Advocacy and Referral Network; (212) 797-9000, ext. 325, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.). LEARN helps parents navigate the path from determining that their child has special education needs to obtaining the services that they are entitled to by law.
One of the most important things that you can do is to ask yourself if you are open – really open – to exploring, and possibly changing, the way you parent your children. A friend of mine, who is a prominent mental health professional, often remarks that the vast majority of the individuals who come to his office do so because they don’twant to change, while only a small percentage of the people really want to transform themselves.
When we experience difficulty in life; with co-workers, spouses or children, we tend to assume that the “significant others” are always to blame for the discord. This destructive pattern often kicks into overdrive when parents are confronted with significant problems regarding a pre-teen or teenage child. The result? Parents bring children to mechanchimor therapists with the mindset of people who bring broken appliances to customer service for repair. Rarely do we have the courage to turn inward and engage in the type of cheshbon hanefesh that will allow us to proactively improve things.
My friend was expressing his frustration that most people come to him hoping that he can give them “pain relief” from their difficult teenager – the type that will not require them to change. My friends, that doesn’t exist!
Having been on the receiving end of phone calls of this nature for more than twenty-five years, I assure you that the best thing that you can do as parents is to take a few steps back and ask yourself, “What can we, as the adults in this equation, do differently to improve the schooling experience and quality of life for our child(ren)?”
In this particular case of school underachievement; it means exploring the answers to some tough questions:
- Are we giving our children enough of our time?
- Should we severely curtail our social obligations for a few years while our kids need us during homework time?
- Do we have unrealistic expectations?
- Are we following the sage and timeless advice of Yaakov Avinu and treating our children as the individuals they are, or do we tell ourselves (and others), “We can’t understand why we are having difficulty with this child. After all; we raised him exactly like his brothers and sisters.”
- How are we responding when our child brings home a poor grade?
- What is the quality of our home life and/or sholom bayis?
- Should we consider going for professional counseling to help us raise this challenging child?
- (Warning: this is a tough one) Would we have the courage to do what may be right for our child even if it is not the “politically correct” thing to do?
Being open to doing things differently than you have done in the past does not mean that you are currently doing things “wrong.” But it does mean that you ought to be receptive to positive change, as that will give you the best opportunity for real improvement.
You know what they say, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you are likely to keep getting what you’ve been getting.”
(Next column: Looking for an appropriate school setting and preparing for the interview.)
Related Articles on Learning Profiles and A.D.D. – A.D.H.D.
Different Strokes - Part 1
Different Strokes Part 2
Different Strokes Part 3
ADD – ADHD Part 1
ADD – ADHD Part 2 Assessment and Testing
ADD - ADHD Part 3 Medication
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