Early Signs of Shutting Down in School

shut down

Shutting down in school is a real issue. Anxiety over a child’s school-based problems can start very early.

When I wrote The Shut-Down Learner I was primarily envisioning a disconnected, turned-off teenager. However, many parents have contacted me since the publication of the book about their children in the early elementary grades.

An example of an email sent to me by a concerned mom tells some of the story:
“My son is drowning in school. I am concerned about him. Everyone keeps telling me not to worry, but I am. I see him coming home frustrated every day. Do you think he could be a Shut-Down Learner?”
After asking a few more questions back and forth, I was struck by the fact that the child of concern was only in kindergarten.

School struggling can be very devastating to a child. Often it leads to a child shutting down and disconnecting in the elementary grades, as early as kindergarten. Usually this shutting down occurs when they are being given work that cannot be handled, that is over their head.

A simple formula that I use to explain the issues is as follows:
Cracks in the Foundation + Time + Lack of Understanding + Widening Cracks + Increased Family Tension around School Work, results in – Shut-Down Learner

In future blogs I hope to elaborate on these basic ideas. For the short term what this formula suggest is that there are early indicators that can be identified to try and prevent all of the things that follow, such as widening cracks, tension around homework and a disconnected child.

For young children (those in kindergarten and first grade) some of the things to watch for include difficulty with letter identification and understanding the associated sounds that goes with the letters. Difficulty with rhyming and an ongoing resistance to engaging with early reading activities are also common. Many of these children are seen to have trouble following sequences and directions. Often there is a family predisposition where one or the other parents recall struggling in school when they were young.

What should you do if you see some of these cracks in the foundation? Certainly talking with your child’s teacher may be helpful. Perhaps the teacher is also seeing some of these issues, even if the cracks are not large enough for the school to take early action.

If you are able to seek outside support in the form of targeted remediation, then this would be greatly encouraged. Psychologist and educational specialists who understand these issues can perform screenings that will help you to know where your child stands and what you should do next. To the extent possible it is better to take early action rather than wait to see what will develop. This is not meant to imply that you need to panic early, but facing these issues is much more beneficial than not in the long run.

Takeaway Point:
Just like there can be cracks in your house’s foundation that are better to be dealt with rather than ignored, similar thinking can apply to your child. The development of early reading skills is a fundamental task of childhood and helping the child get over early hurdles is far better than thinking these hurdles will go away on their own.

Adapted: School Struggles, (2012) Richard Selznick, Ph.D, www.shutdownlearner.com

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About Dr. Richard Selznick

Dr. Richard Selznick is a psychologist, nationally certified school psychologist, assistant professor of pediatrics and school consultant. Dr. Selznick is the Director of the Cooper Learning Center, a Division of the Department of Pediatrics/ Cooper University Healthcare. The author of two books, The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child and the more recently published School Struggles: A Guide To Your Shut-Down Learner’s Success, Dr. Selznick has presented to parents and educators internationally, as far as Dubai and Abu Dhabi and throughout the United States. Learn more about Dr. Selznick at www.drselz.com.

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