Being Your Child’s Advocate: When “Just Try Harder” Doesn’t Work.

Despite the ever-widening public understanding and acceptance of emotional or learning differences, it is still difficult for parents to accept their child’s limitations.  For many reasons, we want our children to be “perfect” and so have an easier time in life.  Of course, it is understandable that we, as parents, would rather not have to endure the distress that goes into parenting a child who struggles.  We love our children and want to avoid hurt to them (and consequently to us) at all costs, but we need to accept what is, then begin to move toward a plan.

It is often said that early intervention is the best intervention.  Left untreated, emotional or learning challenges can become more problematic over time.  Ongoing issues can profoundly affect a child’s self-esteem.  Children quickly learn that those in the outside world are usually intolerant of and unhappy with their behaviors and that they may be perceived as chronically difficult, lazy or stupid.  Troubled children may begin to believe they deserve the labels that others give them and become convinced that there is no use trying to prove differently.  This is often played out in public schools where districts fail to identify problems in children early on.  Typically, administrators wait for children to fail and only then provide various levels of support.

Fortunately, there are some staff members in public and private schools who understand this “too little, too late” phenomenon and who do identify difficulties before too much damage is done to a student’s self-esteem.  This is crucial because damaged self-esteem is never easy to repair; early intervention can help remediate the situation before it becomes worse while ongoing emotional support enables the child to feel better about himself or herself.

As parents of children with difficulties, what can we do?  We must do our homework and advocate for our children.  Childcare professionals are generally well-meaning, but they are not infallible and can sometimes be incorrect in their diagnoses.  By all means, seek out recommended professionals to help your child, but raise objections if you are not convinced that a diagnosis or treatment is the correct one.  The truth is that there is simply no one who will advocate for your child as strongly as you do.  The sooner you acknowledge that you are your child’s best advocate, the sooner you will be able to get your child the help he or she needs.

No one understands your child as well as you do.  Parents often report that – even with no training whatsoever — they recognize that their child is not developing language skills or understanding social cues as adeptly as same-aged peers.  While participating in activities with their child, they may notice their child’s movements seem “floppy,” or that the child appears to be hyperactive.  It is true that many seemingly atypical behaviors need not definitively indicate problems, but there is no downside to checking to be sure.  Sometimes the trouble is minor and other times, even when there is a cluster of behaviors or symptoms indicating a potential concern, the child may grow out of it. However, sometimes he or she won’t, so addressing issues early on could spare you and your child from bigger problems later.

Almost intuitively, parents want their children to “try harder.”  It can be easier to simply say the child is lazy, or the speech impediments are cute than to try to find the reasons for their difficulties.  The truth is that all of us, children and adults, want to be successful.  If we do not succeed, there is usually a valid reason. No one is good at everything, but if we believe our children are out of sync with their peer group, we are wise to be vigilant.  If the issue continues, we must do our best to look for evidence-based treatments and to advocate for our children – in school and in private therapy — so those treatments are diligently and consistently implemented.  Watching our children struggle is upsetting, and all the additional effort we as parents must expend can be exhausting, but identifying issues as soon as possible — and getting the necessary help — can pay huge dividends for your child’s future and for your peace of mind.