Q. Our 8-year-old granddaughter, a second grader, is funny, loving and caring — a really good kid with good friends — but she is a bit of a space cadet.
Although she’s a terrific reader and she does well in school, even her pre-kindergarten teacher said that she drifts into her own world sometimes. This year, however, the teacher told them that she frequently has to remind their daughter to finish her schoolwork and the news has upset the parents. They’re now afraid that their little girl will do badly in third grade because she doesn’t have many of the independent study habits which its curriculum requires.
But why does her mind wander? My grandchild is in very good health and according to the tests, she doesn’t have ADHD and her eyes and her hearing are fine, too. Is there any way we can help this child?
A. There are always ways to help a child.
Some are complicated and expensive and some are quick and casual, but the best, easiest and cheapest way to help your granddaughter is to notice and encourage her strengths far more than her weaknesses. Your granddaughter is never going to be equally good in everything she does any more than her parents are. Or her grandparents. Even the children who make straight A’s in school and get the same score in every category of their IQ are inherently better at some things than at others.
The mind varies from one child to the next because every brain is wired a little differently, which may make your granddaughter’s listen better to the information that appeals to her talents and interests more than to the information that bores her. Or maybe she nods off because the teacher herself is boring or because she’s tired and needs to take a mental break. Children often act like that if they don’t get enough sleep at night, eat a lot of processed foods or their wiring has a few glitches.
If her wiring is out of whack, she could have some learning disabilities, big or small, but her parents should know that they also vary from child to child.
If your granddaughter has an auditory glitch, the bee that buzzes next to the classroom window may sound as loud as the teacher’s voice, but another child might not write well because his glitch interferes with the physical or mental dexterity this task needs. If a different glitch makes a child skitter over information, however, her knowledge may have no depth at all and the older she gets, the more this problem can grow. Other children may not do well in history if they can’t decide which facts are the most important or if they get bogged down by details, and still others will do poorly in school if their disabilities won’t let them plan well, remember what they’ve read or think about the consequences if they should misbehave.
If the parents are lucky — and can afford it — they can probably find a neurobiologist who can not only tell them if their child has a learning disability, but what it is and how to fix it, and he should tell their daughter, too, so she won’t be so embarrassed when the teacher fusses at her for nodding off in class.
The parents can’t count on her to outgrow her disabilities, however — although some children do — but they can teach her some strategies to compensate for the problems they cause, just as they would put a lift in her shoe if one of her legs was shorter than the other.
The parents should also make sure that their child does her homework in a quiet place that is near to them but not to the TV or anything else that is noisy, that they calm her down an hour before her bedtime so she will fall asleep easily, that she uses a white noise machine if she can’t get to sleep within 15 minutes and that she gets plenty of sleep and eats super-healthy foods to get extra energy because it’s exhausting for a child to do her school work and overcome a learning disability at the same time. Gluten and dairy products can also make some children drift into another world and junk foods and sodas can make some children get woozy and make others get hyperactive.
Any parent of a school-age child — dreamy or not — should also read “A Mind at a Time” by Mel Levine, M.D. (Simon & Schuster; $16) because it explains the learning styles that all children have, whether they have learning disabilities or not. You might even give a copy to the teacher, since many teachers don’t know much about them.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.