We’re nine months into the school year and with year-end exams looming, this is a good time to assess how your child is coping at school. If they are struggling to grasp new concepts or cope with their workload they could be challenged in one or more developmental areas.
There are three areas of human develop that can influence a child’s ability to learn, namely physical, emotional and cognitive development. While these three areas are distinctly different they are connected in many ways. Due to this interconnectedness, your child might present with a problem in one area, but its cause actually lies in another. It is important to understand these development areas in order to assess where your child is excelling and where they may need help.
Your child’s physical health can influence how they perform at school. Children are naturally exuberant; a child that is exhibiting signs of listlessness or lethargy could be experiencing health problems. A healthy diet, moderate exercise and good sleeping patterns are tantamount to the health of your child.
General practitioner, Dr Linda Baigent, says that the human body needs a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats as well as vitamins and minerals to develop and function properly. “Many vitamin deficiencies result in poor functioning of our nervous system and an inability to concentrate,” Baigent adds. “Children require more sleep than adults and a good night’s sleep is extremely important; nine to ten hours is vital for primary school learners. If your child is going to bed early but still seems tired, they may be a restless sleeper and may be suffering from allergies, post nasal drip, an iron deficiency or ear problems” advises Dr Baigent. “This warrants a trip to the family doctor.”
Emotional development refers to your child’s feelings, how they handle situations and process their emotional reaction to them. Emotional intelligence or EQ is a person’s ability to measure, identify and control their emotions.
When your child reaches a maturity level where they are able to control their emotions, they are likely to be able to handle times of stress or disappointment better, show empathy to peers in difficult times and feel more confident about themselves and their abilities.
Educational psychologist Annemi Scheepers says, “Problems at home can be challenging for your child to handle and may filter across to affecting their performance at school. Sibling rivalry, fighting between parents, divorce, the death of a close relative or an emotionally unavailable parent (though physical or mental illness) are just some of the problems which may occur in the home environment and affect your child in the classroom.”
Within the school environment, an emotional problem may be a school yard bully, lack of social skills (no friends) or teacher/child conflict. Scheepers also notes that a physical illness which has not yet been diagnosed could also affect a child emotionally.
Cognitive development refers to your child’s ability to learn, reason and solve problems. Cognitive skills like concentration, perception, memory and logical thinking are mental skills which are used to acquire knowledge.
“These can be described as a child’s tools for learning,” explains Susan du Plessis, Director of Educational Programs at Edublox. “When a child struggles to acquire knowledge in certain areas, it may indicate a cognitive skill deficit.” If you know what to look for, cognitive problems are easy to spot. Does your child reverse letters like b and d or confuse numbers like 65 and 56? Do they have trouble with sequencing and putting letters in the incorrect order, for example write ‘act’ instead of ‘cat’? Speak to your child’s teacher to find out if your child struggles to copy correctly from the board or if they battle with story sums.
If you suspect a cognitive deficit, du Plessis suggests that you get appropriate help for your child as soon as possible. “The gap between children with and without cognitive deficits gets wider and wider and may become more difficult or even impossible to close,” du Plessis says.
Du Plessis offers the following advice to parents when selecting a clinic to help their child’s cognitive development:
• Have your child assessed, but budget wisely. The assessment is the first step; your budget should go towards helping your child.
• Go to your first appointment with a critical mind and ask questions such as, “What method will be used to help my child? What is the theory behind the method? Can you show proof of success? Will my child be safe? Will my child enjoy it?” If they hate going, they won’t learn anything.
• Get your full money’s worth. While tutoring your child, the teacher or therapist should not answer calls or leave the room to check on dinner.
• Assess the help. You should see visible results and ultimately an improvement in schoolwork. If this isn’t evident, the method may not be working for your child.