My Child Is Struggling – Is There Something Else Going On?

By Sarah Bald, PsyD

As a parent you likely want your child to succeed more than anything. You have developed dreams and ambitions for your child since finding out you were going to become a parent. You thought about sharing your world and your interests with them. Taking them to scouts, sharing a silly movie, introducing them to what makes you tick. You strive to create and balanced and harmonious world for them.

Many parents, however, will hit a bump (or two, or five) in the road along the way. Maybe you get glowing remarks from their teacher about how great of a child they are, but the meltdowns start the minute the car door shuts on the way home. Maybe your child is happy-go-lucky on the weekends, but it is a fight to get them up and ready for school in the morning. Maybe your child, who wants to do well, lacks the motivation to do the work on their own. Maybe they have been called lazy, hard-headed, or stubborn.

Your mother has told you it is just a phase – they will grow out of it! Your friends have all the latest a greatest parenting tools and they swear you must try it. Their pediatrician tells you “oh, that’s normal” when you express your concerns at their annual check-up. But, there is still this nagging sense in your gut that something might not be right. Know that you’re not alone.

How do you know when it is something more?

There are many questions I find myself asking parents as a clinical psychologist to help me get to the roots of a child’s individual strengths and weaknesses. I am looking for developmental red flags along the way, from birth to now, that may indicate a bigger issue. How was pregnancy? Any complications with delivery? When did your child start crawling? Was it on hands and knees? When did they start talking? When did they learn their alphabet, numbers, and colors? Are they able to follow multistep directions? What does the morning routine look like? The list goes on and on. But here are some things to think about as a parent, for when it might be time to evaluate for something bigger:

1. You find you are repeating yourself, even when your child is looking right at you.

There are times where kids tune out – that is natural! But if you are on their level, distractions are turned off, and you have your child make eye contact with you before speaking, this may be an indication that something bigger is going on. They may also be appearing to pay attention in class and teachers comment about how well-behaved they are, but they have no idea what they learned or what the homework is when they get home. Some children have underlying disabilities, but “good behavior” masks an otherwise serious concern.

2. Your child seems to need an entire quarter or more to regain the information lost over the summer.

Kids lose information over the summer. They are given a great deal of material and we are asking their underdeveloped brains to retain a significant amount of information for three months without practice. Schools are designed to account for this, though, and if your child’s teacher is noting that your child needs extra review compared to their classmates, it is time to consider an outside evaluation.

3. Your child’s emotional reactions are abnormally large for the situation.

Kids have big emotions! That is perfectly healthy. But if small slights are creating big meltdowns that last upward of an hour or more, it is time to be concerned. As a parent, it is important to track what sets off these big emotions so that you can provide your evaluator with this important and extremely useful information about what underlying triggers might be.

4. Your child is not progressing, despite ample services and opportunities.

I am a big supporter of trying intervention first. If your child is struggling in math or reading, try the school’s intervention program. Sign them up for Kumon or a tutor. But many of these interventions often have limited efficacy for learning disabilities. If they have been through tutoring and extra assistance but are still struggling, there may be an underlying issue.

These are some starting conversations and questions to ask yourself. You as the parent are the expert on your child. If you sense something is wrong, ask. Do not be afraid to get second opinions. Find a provider that is the right fit for your family, someone who listens and takes the time to hear and respond to your concerns. You are your child’s best advocate, and you don’t have to go through this alone.

About the Author

Founder and Lead Psychologist

NEST Psychological

Sarah Bald is the founder and lead psychologist of NEST Psychological in Phoenix, AZ. Dr. Bald obtained her Doctoral and Master’s degrees in Clinical Psychology at the Arizona School of Professional Psychology. She completed her pre-doctoral internship with the Avondale Elementary School District in order to fully understand and appreciate the learning environments of her clients. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Beljan Psychological Services where she continued to practice after licensure.

Dr. Bald’s clinical experience includes pediatric neuropsychology, child and family psychotherapy, and parenting. She also assists families in navigating the special education process through education and advocacy. Dr. Bald has presented her research at the annual scientific conferences of the American Neurological Association and the Gerontological Society of America. She has abstracts published in The Gerontologist and the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. Her research interests include lifespan development, twice exceptionalism, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Dr. Bald is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Arizona Psychological Association (AzPA). She currently serves as the co-chair of the Early Career Psychologist Committee for AzPA and has held other various leadership roles in the psychological community.