Not Liking School Due to Cognitive Problems: Ideas to Solve

Cognitive problems such as slow information processing, inflexibility, poor attention span and motor restlessness co-present frequently. Remember that brain wiring is complex and many of these functions are interrelated. Suddenly, come second grade or third grade where chapter books present a challenge to read, write and do multi-stepped math, things become much harder in the classroom.

This may be the sequence:

  1. Work is hard.
  2. Hard work piles up.
  3. It is not enjoyable.
  4. Refuse to try and give up.
  5. Resist head on with any classroom instructions.
  6. Finally, hit the wall. Cry or feel sad and mad.
  7. Don’t want to go to school.

Executive function problems such as information processing, flexibility, and attention span, and motor restlessness are compounded by emotional reactivity due to the schoolwork and homework stress.

Some ideas to strategize:

  1. Hold hope: Brain is still developing in children and they will improve some, hopefully naturally along the way.
  2. Yes, cogwheels: Know that it is like sliding in a roller coaster with spurs or cogwheels stopping them from a smooth slide. It is biological problem. The following tips will help you to help them smoothen their slides to move forward.
  3. Understanding and saying the right things: Chastising children for slacking is sad as they are not able to cope. It is not their fault. Let them know and also add that you are going to help them get through this. Listen, give space, help them to choose from options, do not talk back with sharp tone and attack with your own frustration if they throw a tantrum when not coping. Mentally hold them with compassion.
  4. Achievable and easy goals: Help them pick books that they love to read even if they are very simple and easy. They could be fantasy fiction. Remember that they may not be the ones you had in mind.  Reward their reading. Move the goal post slowly, in small increments. Idea is to make this a fun experience.
  5. Sharing stories: If one of the parents had educational challenges, share them with your child. It normalizes that they are not alone.
  6. Make sure academics do not trump self esteem: Involve them in one activity that they excel in, be it base ball, hockey, chess or anything that adds value to their self esteem with a new skill. Side effects of such activity are more friends. Slowly these gains will generalize and protect the self-esteem from being fractured due to learning problems.
  7. Friendships: Arrange play dates with friends from the teams of these joint activities.
  8. Resources: Connect with the special education specialist even if your child is not in special class. They may have many resources to offer in school such as special computers to write and fun math packages or arranging extra help.
  9. Simplify: Easy work, repetition, simplifying concepts, work and methods to learn is critical. But teachers are overworked to attend 1 to 1. Arrange 504 plan or individual education plan (IEP) at school.
  10. Get Help, who is other than you: It can be a challenge for you to help with homework. Arrange a tutor if possible in the spectrum of what you can afford, or volunteer tutoring from high school students.
  11. “Good tutor:” Remember, not all tutors are good. Good teachers who are not just nice but can teach with passion in simple and fun manner is important.
  12. Immersion in encouraging environment: Connect the dots and ensure that while it is challenging, at no time, the child should hit the wall. Ask yourself, is my child happy? Is he or she coping? Appreciating the helpers and your child and bringing them together and expressing gratitude will go a long way in this long journey.
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