“You’re not a good reader. Oh, and your spelling is a mess.”
Can you imagine how my child would have felt if I’d told her that?
The fact is that one of my daughters did “struggle” to learn to read. I see in hindsight that the problem was mainly with me – I was pushing her with formal instruction just because she’d turned five rather than watching for real developmental readiness – but the observable reality at the time revealed an inability to process phonological concepts. In fact, though she doesn’t have a learning disability, things didn’t click for her with reading until after she’d turned eight. And she wrestled with our crazy English spelling constructs until she was 13, but then seemed to wake up one day able to spell with consistency as she hadn’t before.
Of course, her “delays” concerned me; any good parent wonders and worries when a child struggles in any way, be it academically, physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually. And, sadly, my daughter saw some of my anxiety. But I’m thankful I knew in my gut to avoid making negative statements that would influence her identity. In fact, I remember – even when my stomach twisted in knots during a lesson –consciously coaching myself to purposefully encourage and not dishearten her.
“You’re doing great, honey. Yes, you remembered from yesterday how to sound out st-.”
“Wow. You’re on fire today! You spelled seven of the 10 words correctly!”
It turns out that my daughter was simply a “late bloomer” – who also happened to have hyperopia (farsightedness) and an astigmatism. Thus, she simply needed glasses…and time.
Depending on the circumstances, we do, of course, sometimes need to seek more intensive intervention. But even then, it’s imperative that we avoid plastering our kids with negative, identity-defining labels. Instead, we must help them frame their identities positively and properly – for example, a friend purposes to say that her son “has autism but it doesn’t have him” rather than saying he “is autistic.” Kids internalize who they are based primarily on the messages we parents send with our words and actions.
My “struggler” is now a beautiful, mature young lady on the cusp of adulthood. Some spelling constructs still baffle her – after all, our spelling system is a bizarre mishmash where rules are more often broken than followed! – but she’s become a gifted writer, able to describe and challenge with her words in ways far beyond her years. And she absolutely loves reading; not long ago, she was – by choice – delving into Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the works of Emily Dickinson at the same time and has recently chosen to concurrently tackle Wuthering Heights and Alex Haley’s Roots for her homeschool literature assignment, while reading other difficult works for fun.
Imagine how different her adolescence would be if she’d believed that her early “struggles” controlled her identity; I shudder at the thought. Our words wield great power in our kids’ lives. Are you using yours positively, for their long-term well-being?