Thoughts from the Therapy Chair with Joe Martino: Advocating for Your Child

Maria sat across from me perplexed and confused. She felt hopeless and alone. It wasn’t Maria’s mental health that she needed to talk about. It wasn’t even her son’s mental health that she wanted to talk about. She felt that both of those were fine, “although probably everyone can benefit from counseling,” she said to me as an aside.

We were gathered to talk about her son and his schooling. He had decent grades but was struggling to sit still and not doodle on his paper that he was supposed to be taking notes on.

Her son was someone who fidgets and struggled to make eye contact. This was their first year in a new school system and she wasn’t sure how to help him.

This story is relatively common for counselors, especially those that work with young people. It might even be familiar to you as it might be similar to a story you could tell me about your life.

For some reason, we seem to believe that students must sit still in order to learn and that if they don’t sit still, they can’t learn.

This is problematic because many kids learn best by moving and fidgeting. Given the ubiquitous nature of cell phones and devices, we have a nice, easy convenient whipping post to target. “It wasn’t like this before those devices!” becomes the almost predictable lament.

When I was student, it wasn’t devices, it was drawing and note passing. Doodling was considered lack of self-discipline and a hindrance to learning, then years after I graduated, they did a study and found out that doodling is actually a way that some people learn better and is often a way that people can pay attention better. There has now been multiple studies done that show the benefits of doodling in universities all across the country.

And yes, there have also been numerous studies done on how movement helps students learn.

The real problem is that the way we teach teachers to do their jobs has not caught up with science yet. Certainly, there are some, maybe many, teachers out there who understand how fidgeting and moving can help student outcomes.

But, if you’re like Maria and working with a teacher that isn’t there yet, you can feel overwhelmed and not be sure what your next steps are.

Advocate for your student.

Advocate for your student is where a lot of distress can become evident for parents. A bad experience to two along the way can impact how we view our current situation. When you advocate for your student, you may need to bring some educational material along, or you may need to enlist the help of a counselor outside of the school system who can help you practice how you advocate for your student.  I believe that almost all teachers want to accommodate their students learning needs.

Partner with your student’s teacher.

The biggest goal is to partner with your student’s teacher so that the best possible learning outcomes are achieved. An adversarial relationship will not help anyone. One of the toughest aspects of a teaching job is being able to manage all of the diverse needs in a classroom. Your child’s need to fidget or move around should not impede someone else’s ability to learn.

In order to partner with the teacher, be sure to listen deeply to their concerns. Listen to what problems they have to solve. People who feel heard tend to be better listeners. This also will help you to better understand what needs the teacher and the classroom has when you offer some ideas on how your student might be able to better learn.

Look for ways to fidget that keep your student in their seat as much as possible.

From fidget rings that spin over your finger, to bracelets that vibrate slightly when you touch them, there are a lot of possible ways your student can stimulate their brain while they learn. Many of them will not require the student to leave their seat. In many ways, this will be ideal as it will not distract the other learners in the room. If possible, being provided a regular movement break is recommended for almost all learners.

My wife and I just did a podcast on this idea recently. In it, she talks about her own learning journey and how she discovered that if she keeps her hands busy while she’s learning, her retention goes sky high. Search The Joe Martino Show in your favorite podcast player and look for episode 202.

In the end, parenting is a lot of hard work. It can feel overwhelming. Please keep going. Stay engaged. Stay advocating. You got this. I believe in you.

Joe Martino is a counselor with Joe Martino Counseling Network.  He has locations in Lowell, Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Grandville.  For more information about Joe and his business, check their website or Facebook page.  He and the rest of the counselors and staff are eager to help those in need.

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