June 19, 2019 by Kim Wyrley-Birch
Children with dyslexia use an enormous amount of energy doing ordinary tasks such as listening, reading, spelling and writing. School can be exhausting, and some lessons will be overwhelming. Because of this, there will be more hurdles to deal with at home as anxiety, tantrums, and homework fears come into play.
I used to dread it when homework came back from school in the book bags. The emotional rollercoaster we used to all go through to finish a set of spellings was huge. Reading was the worst – it did become a monster waiting to attack. Biff, Chip and Kipper became the stuff of nightmares!
However, over time (and with professional knowledge thrown in) my family found a routine and structure that worked for us. It took us a while to get there, but I can promise you, hand on heart, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Fully understanding what every child, and parent, must feel after a day at school, I have tips to overcome hurdles you might face during the week:
HURDLE: AFTER-SCHOOL EXHAUSTION
When your child gets home, you may launch into questions about homework, lessons or peers. My middle son jokingly called it being ‘inquisitionally violated’. I was worse than the Spanish Inquisition! However, what I’ve learnt about children with dyslexia is they need time to switch off and relax. They may have spent most of their school day struggling and not achieving much, so to go straight into homework (which may be another uphill struggle) will put an extra load of exhaustion on their shoulders.
TIP: ALLOW YOUR CHILD TIME TO SWITCH OFF
Allow your child to wind down by doing something that’s fun and places no demands on them. It could be arts and crafts, kicking a ball around, playing outside, or even computer games.
I believe computer games in moderation, particularly releases like Minecraft, are beneficial for dyslexic children. The children usually are very good at them because they play to their visual, logic reasoning and problem-solving strengths. Some computer games are also brilliant for developing hand-eye coordination and improve visual processing.
Trampolines are great too! The up and down movement of jumping calms their overloaded sensory system down. My son used to come home and jump straight onto our trampoline, especially after a tough day at school.
HURDLE: HOMEWORK BATTLES
Whether your child has dyslexia or not, most parents are sure to come across homework battles. However, the extreme tiredness your dyslexic child will feel means homework becomes even harder. We had many emotional clashes in our house!
TIP: STOP ALL HOMEWORK, THEN SLOWLY BUILD IT BACK UP
Dyslexic children can spend an entire school day feeling like they’ve failed. It’s no wonder they don’t want to continue schoolwork when they get home too. If homework is becoming a significant issue and putting your child off learning altogether, you may have to stop it for a short while. I would advise you have a quiet word with your child’s teacher to come up with a plan.
Doing extra work at home has a significant impact on a dyslexic’s overall progress, but it needs to be at their own pace. When they are ready to handle a little, build this in and keep growing, slowly. Try to keep homework different to the school format too, e.g. spellings can be a practised with play dough, coloured pens, or glitter letters.
Tantrums in older children can be related to a dip in blood sugar levels. Children who are dyslexic work extremely hard to process information which uses up a lot of energy. Because of this, it’s easier for their sugar levels to dip (and tantrums to hit) if they’re not fed the right fuel.
TIP: A GOOD NUTRITIOUS SNACK
As soon as your child gets in from school offer them downtime with a fuel-boosting snack. There are some great healthy after school snack ideas online, and however as a mother of three, I’m aware making homemade nibbles is a big ask. Peanut butter or cheese on granary toast, banana smoothies, and Greek yoghurt topped with berries and seeds, are natural to put together and work just as well.
Once your child is settled into the school, they will come home with a reading book in their bag. As a parent, you instantly feel pressure to practise reading every night. What starts as an enjoyable activity, becomes a chore as your child starts to realise how difficult it is for them.
TIP: STRIP READING RIGHT BACK
If reading is a real struggle, strip it right back. It’ll take the pressure off your child, and they’ll start enjoying stories again. Go back to the beginning where you read them a story. Just listening to sentences and how they’re sequenced together will help your child develop proper grammar and vocabulary.
Once you’re enjoying this time together, move onto your child reading one word on a page (you finish the rest). Reading one word will be achievable for them, so they’ll enjoy this task. You can eventually build up to them reading a page, and then you read a page, and so on. On the evenings where they’re exhausted, forget about it and have another go the next day.
HURDLE: PEER PRESSURE TEARS
Children with dyslexia will constantly battle anxiety, self-doubt, and sadness at school. It’s hard to see friends, best friends, and peers doing well when you’re struggling with the basics. They may even experience name-calling such as ‘lazy’, ‘dumb’ or ‘thick’. A teacher once said to my daughter “you’re not the sharpest tool in the box”, and my son often had to stay in at break to finish his work because he was ‘so slow.’
TIP: PROVIDE A SAFE, POSITIVE SANCTUARY AT HOME
A big piece of advice I have to offer parents with dyslexic children is to make sure your child can come home to relax somewhere, smile, feel safe and be cared for. Dyslexic children carry a lot on their shoulders at school, so it’s our job to pick them back up again. Stay positive about their difficulties. Tell them it will be ok - because it will. Set small goals at home together. Achieving these goals will make them feel confident and motivated to keep going to school. If you can help your child master the small steps until they become automatic in their memory, the more significant levels at school will fall into place. Ignore peer noise and concentrate on your child’s achievements. Slow and steady is the mantra!
If you’d like more advice about how to overcome hurdles at home or want to chat, get in touch!