Welcome to Great Moments in Parenting, a series in which fathers explain a parenting hurdle they faced and the unique way they overcame it. Here, Marcos, a 48-year-old dad from the UK explains the moment that he learned his son was struggling in school, and the steps he took to help him.
My son was always good at completing and doing his homework. He’s a really hard worker. But he always struggled with spelling. When we went to the parent teacher conferences, the teacher made a comment that he was doing really well in all of his subjects, but he was failing within that area. When we spoke to him about it, he got really emotional. He said he’d actually been getting in trouble with the teacher because he wasn’t doing well. He’s really conscientious about his schoolwork, and I think he was really embarrassed, worried, and anxious about the fact that he found spelling, of all things, difficult.
We learned a few things that night. One was that the teacher gave us the impression, initially, that he wasn’t putting enough effort into getting better. His mom suggested that he could be dyslexic. She experienced dyslexia herself. But because of his age, we weren’t able to get a definite analysis of whether that was the case or not. Until we knew, I knew I just had to help him calm down.
I decided to try and help him feel way more relaxed about the whole thing. I told him it was okay that he performed at whatever level he achieved, as long as he was doing his best. He tackled the challenge.
The best way I can describe his work ethic is that we’d sit down together, and in the beginning, he really didn’t want to do it. He had it in his head that he wouldn’t do well. But I tried to give him the confidence that, as long as he was trying his hardest, and doing his best to get the best results he could, that was okay.
When he internalized that, he seemed to get more comfortable. He realized he wasn’t going to be in trouble for the fact that he didn’t get every answer right. Over time, working with him regularly and especially over the weekend, he got more confident. He started to make progress, and he started complaining less about the fact that he needed to practice his spelling.
At that point, it didn’t matter to me whether or not he was dyslexic, or whether or not he’s a whiz-kid speller. People are good at some things and not so good at others, and that’s okay. But I really wanted to make sure he was doing his best and that as a dad, I was giving him the confidence that he’s actually fantastic in other things. Math, history, and science. He’s fantastic at those things. But he needed to know that not everybody can be good at everything and that as long as he was doing his best, that’s good. That helped him a lot, I think. His anxiety about the situation dissipated. He was way more calm. And because he was calm, he started to get better.
Being absolutely honest, I had the opposite experience growing up. I was making top marks, and absolutely nothing else was acceptable. That was really hard for me to deal with as a kid. So that’s really why I chose to take a different approach with my own son. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid to handle, and I didn’t want to put that on him.
He started to improve so quickly, too. Within six months, he had improved, and then by a year, he really started to shine as a speller. Eventually, he won an award for “Most Improved Student.” All of this happened before he was actually diagnosed with dyslexia, which we weren’t even sure he had.
I think if, at the time, my son knew he was dyslexic, he wouldn’t have made the improvements that he has made since. Since we didn’t know, we also approached it from a different angle, which was that, we understood that it was difficult for him but we just wanted him to do his best. My concern with doing the opposite was if he had been labeled with being dyslexic, I think that could have become a way for him to explain away why he couldn’t improve.
He’s doing extremely well now. He regularly gets full marks in his spelling tests. He still gets upset if he gets one wrong, like 11/12 right. But when he comes home from school the first thing he tells me “I got one wrong today, dad,” he wants to work on what he needs to do to make sure he knows the word he got wrong, so that he can get it right next time.
I’m almost overwhelmed, I’m so happy that it’s turned out the way that it has. He got these results that he thought he’d been unable to achieve.