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How I Decide When to Get My Kids Extra Help (& When to Wait)

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I was standing in the parking lot of the grocery store when I ran into an old friend whose son was in preschool with my son. Her son was always a wild kid who seemed to have a hard time listening and following directions. While the preschool had always suggested she and her husband get help for their son outside of school, they never did. 

Now that her son was in second grade, she told me, his issues were glaring. He’d become known as a bad kid who got in trouble a lot. She and her husband regretted not acting on it earlier. I couldn’t help but wonder if his parents had listened to the preschool’s suggestion to deal with a few of their son’s issues, maybe he’d have had a better experience in school. I didn’t say anything because it wasn’t my place, but I left the conversation thinking about how painful parenting is when our kids are struggling.

Related: Go Ahead, Call My Kid Weird

At some point, every parent is going to be in the same position as my friend. At some point, each of our children will need something extra, either academically, physically, or socially. My son was particularly clumsy and literally tripped over his own feet in preschool. When his teacher suggested we put him in occupational therapy, we did. A year later, and with the help of some well-crafted orthotics, our kiddo was done with O.T. and so were we.

I never thought of O.T. as carrying any stigma, but I realized I was alone on that. A few other kids in his class were recommended for O.T. as well. Not one of the parents would do it, with each citing the cost or inconvenience as the reason they weren’t following through, and I can see why. As much as we hate to admit it, sometimes it’s easier to ignore a kid’s problem that open a Pandora’s Box of specialists, assessments, and expenses. And let’s face it: Sometimes kids grow out of a problem, if they’re just given time. But sometimes they don’t, and sometimes not getting the help they need only makes the problem worse.

Here are the hard-and-fast rules I use to decide whether my children need extra help…

1. We listen to school administrators and our pediatrician. If you trust your child’s teacher or administrators enough to educate your child for seven hours a day, it’s probably safe to assume your child’s teachers’ suggestions and observations have some validity. There’s nothing wrong with investigating the school’s concerns. Worse case scenario you’ve wasted time and money, but you haven’t missed a delay that could alter your child’s future both emotionally and academically. 

2. We trust our loved ones’ opinions, too.  Most of us get defensive when even a well-meaning friend or relative says anything negative about our child. But if your friend or relative does strike up enough courage to discuss something they’ve observed about your child, at least hear her out. If you’ve noticed the same thing, get a professional’s opinion.

3. We refuse to let fear be a factor. Every parent is terrified that something is really wrong with his or her kids, but that doesn’t mean parents should ignore the things that might be wrong with their kids. Every parent wants a perfect child, but hiding from whatever your child needs doesn’t change that fact that your child needs something. 

4. We try to recognize when our kids are struggling. There’s a difference between our children working hard and our children struggling. Every parent can recognize that difference in her own child.  No child needs to struggle.  They just might need a little extra help and it’s my job to notice they need it, and provide the extra push. 

Once we’ve made the decision to get one of our kids help, we only work with someone with whom we are comfortable. In every city, there are a handful of go-to experts to whom it seems like everybody is going.  That doesn’t make that person the best for me, or for my child. So I always do my research on experts, talk to friends to see whom they’ve used and go with someone I trust completely.  

And last but not least, I always trust my gut. A mother knows her child better than anyone. So if I’m noticing one of my children is delayed or seems to be having a harder time in a certain area than his or her peers, there’s nothing wrong with getting help. Each one of our children will probably need a little extra help, academically, medically, or socially, at some point in their lives. There’s nothing wrong with admitting it!

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Photo: Getty