All dyslexic children experience varying degrees of stress at school, doing their homework, and even at out-of-school activities they attend. School presents a special challenge, when so much of their day is focused on dealing with text. For children whose dyslexia is severe it can be as stressful as a one-legged child going to a skiing or dance school.
The dyslexic child knows that something is wrong, but cannot understand why they find it so hard to do the work that other children can cope with easily. They often can become very stressed.
Signs of stress
The signs of stress in children are well known nowadays: embarrassment, anxiety, withdrawal, not wanting to go to school, tiredness, irritability, headaches or stomach aches, difficulty sleeping, lying, thumb sucking, fingernal biting, loss of appetite, bed wetting, or need to urinate frequently.
They may feel a sinking feeling on Sunday evenings because of school next day.
Teenagers may have sleep disturbances, may go off by themselves, may feel angry longer, feel disillusioned, lack self-esteem, and have a general distrust of the world. Extreme behaviors may result, ranging from breaking all of the rules and taking part in high-risk behaviors (drugs, shoplifting, skipping school) to depression and suicidal tendencies in extreme cases.
Help children through made-up stories
Sometimes children cannot talk to us about the anxiety they feel. They may not have the words to express themselves. Homespun, made-up stories are a great answer. The character in the story can be a boy or girl just like them. They are worried about the same things and have the same problems to deal with. In the story, the boy or girl finds ways of coping with problems which worry the child: reading, writing and spelling. As the child listens to the story, s/he is able to identify with the hero or heroine.
You can ask them, “What do you think David (the boy in the story) was most worried about?” The answer that the child gives will be a direct reflection of the child’s own fears, or anger. Children can be very honest about the feelings and fears of story characters even though they may be reluctant when asked about their own feelings.
Teaching slow breathing
In school, children can start to breathe too fast as a spelling test approaches. This can be like a panic attack coming on. You can teach your child to sense when this reaction is starting and learn to control their breathing. If they start taking deep breaths, then count to four before each new intake of breath, they will find that their body begins to relax and they are able to fend off the feelings of panic.
Cognitive therapy helps us to stop fearing the worst. Ask your child what would happen if they did fail the spelling test. Would they be expelled? Would they die? Of course not, the worst that might happen would be if they were made to stay in at break time, but they would probably get away with being told to work harder by the teacher. This realisation can take the panic out of the situation.
The most significant help that can be given to any dyslexic child or teenager is to let them see that theycan progress in reading and writing. This usually means hring a private tutor for one-on-one help for a lesson each week. The tutor will take them back to the level at which they are actually able to cope, and then lead them on very gradually from there.
Individual tuition always brings about a remarkable change in a dyslexic child’s self-confidence and in their progress. They will often say: ‘Oh, I see now!’ after years of not understanding in class. Small group support in school is also very helpful, but not as much as one-on-one help if it can be afforded.
It’s a bit like learning to use the computer keyboard, but having missed out on how to use the DELETE key. Everyone else seems to be getting on so much faster than you are!
Individual tuition fills in those missing steps in learning which make such a crucial difference.
A well-known self-confidence exercise is described onDyslexia Teacher. The child is asked to make two lists, one of things s/he is good at, and the other of things that s/he is weak at. The ‘good at’ list is added to so that the child’s non-academic skills are included: swimming, horse rising, cycling, modeling, collecting stamps, relating to other children, being helpful at home, etc. The ‘weak at’ list has reading, spelling, writing, and perhaps math, but always ends up shorter than the ‘good at’ list.
Read with your child at home
Whilst reading at school can be demanding for a child, reading at home can be an altogether different experience provided that the parents uses the right techniques. Methods for hearing your child read are described in an aricle in Dyslexia Online Magazine. The parent tells the child any hard words straight away so that the child can get on with the story and start to enjoy reading. As soon as the chld shows any signs of frustration, the parent take over and reads the whole of the next page or two.
Every child is good at something, so make a lot of this. Put their certificates, badges, models, etc. in a prominent place in the house for visitors to see. Don’t be afraid to do this – every parent is proud of their children!
Using a number of techniques like these can really help your child to learn to cope with the stress in their daily lives at school.