Marguerite Kelly
Family Almanac

A child’s mind wanders

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 every subject at school, even her pre-K teacher said that she drifts into her own world sometimes. This year, however, the teacher told the parents 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.

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?

(Hadley Hooper for The Washington Post)

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A. There are always ways to help a child.

Some are complicated and expensive, and some are quick and casual, but the best (and the easiest and the 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 are inherently better at some things than others.

The mind varies from one child to the next because every brain is wired a little differently, which may make your granddaughter listen more to the information that appeals to her talents and interests than to the information that bores her. Or maybe she nods off because the teacher 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, they eat a lot of processed foods or their wiring has a few glitches.

It’s possible 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, then the bee that buzzes next to the classroom window may sound as loud as the teacher’s voice. Another child might not write well because his glitch interferes with the physical or mental dexterity this task needs. 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. 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 misbehave.

If the parents are lucky — and can afford it — they can probably find a neurobiologist who can not only tell them whether their child has a learning disability, but what it is and how to fix it. 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, although some children do. But they can teach her some strategies to compensate for the problems they cause.

The parents should also make sure that their child does her homework in a quiet place that is near them but not the TV or anything else that is noisy. They should calm her down an hour before her bedtime so she will fall asleep easily, and she should use a white noise machine if she can’t get to sleep within 15 minutes.

She should get plenty of sleep and eat super-healthy foods to get extra energy, because it’s exhausting for a child to do her schoolwork and overcome a learning disability at the same time. Gluten and dairy products can also make some children drift into another world; junk foods and sodas can make some children woozy and make others hyperactive.

Any parent of a school child — dreamy or not — should also read “A Mind at a Time” by Mel Levine because it explains the learning styles that all children have, and whether they have learning disabilities or not.

Send questions about parenting to advice@margueritekelly.com.

 
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