Help! 9 yr old DS has got into complete panic cycle about any Literacy homework

(24 Posts)
TuTu Sun 20-Jan-13 22:04:05

Yes, I now realise that is so true. Mumsnet always helps! Feel like things have really turned the corner, and that the issue has been with me and others, not with DS. Confident we are on the right track now.... thanks to you all.

pointythings Sun 20-Jan-13 21:33:31

What squiggle said... Both my DDs are very bright and they have both had crises of confidence in their own way. We (parents, school, everyone) pile such expectation on them that when they come across something they find difficult, they're terrified of failure.

IME gentle has always been the way forward - with DD1 it was convincing her that mistakes were a valid method of learning, and that they were a sign that the work was challenging enough for her. That, and praising effort rather than achievement.

With DD2 she had a mental block about times tables - so we agreed that I could ask her a random times table question, but then I had to answer one she set me. That was in late October, she now has them as instant recall.

We tend not to be careful enough with our bright DCs and we should all take a step backwards and realise that they are only human and can't be expected to be naturally good at everything.

I think that is a problem with bright, achieving children, TBH - everyone focuses on the one thing they do find hard, with the risk that it gets blown out of all proportion.

TuTu Sat 19-Jan-13 22:36:52

Yes this has always been an issue. Its always been a main talking about in parent teacher meetings, and a major issue in his school reports. He is so strong academically, very creative, and has a very high IQ...... but I think this has led everyone (me included) too then expect too much of him in this one area, and get really frustrated by it. No one has been able to "help" , and things have just got worse as each year has gone by.

I am now feeling though that I need to see things from his viewpoint so much more, and break things down into much smaller steps, and also accept that we are all different.

OP - has this always been an issue? I remembered, thinking about your thread, when DS was in Y1. They used to have to write a sentence of "news" on Monday mornings. He would freeze and panic, sometimes to the point of tears. When his teacher showed me his book, some weeks had a note from her saying "minisquiggle had a meltdown so we left it". After that we used to talk in the car on the way to school about what he might want to write grin. The vast majority of his teachers have been great, and he is getting over the whole "panic when put on the spot" thing now.

TuTu Sat 19-Jan-13 22:21:39

Thats so reassuring to hear that we are now starting down the right track, and really appreciate the tips in your post about how to use the mind maps, especially for capturing some of the sentences as he says them. It all seems so much more achievable now, compared to the brick wall of last night.

racingheart Sat 19-Jan-13 22:06:19

Tutu, bless him. I work with children who have exactly this problem. There's lots you can do. Not read whole thread, so sorry if I'm repeating stuff.

Strongly support your idea to back off from criticising his ideas.

A good way to start is with a mind map, as you say, and to number the ideas in order. Write (if he won't) the subject of the literacy work in the centre and ask him to say anything at all linked to it. If he doesn't, and seems to be freezing up, suggest a thing or two. Whatever he says, write it down.
If he comes out with a clear, whole sentence about the topic, write the whole thing down verbatim, praise it and say that might be a good opening sentence. use the word sentence. let him make the connection between the thoughts in his head and sentences on the page. Sentences are just his thoughts.

To open out each idea from the mind map:

Lead the homework by asking logical questions, and as he answers them, get him to write down what he's just said as the next sentence. Point out how he is building up a whole paragraph simply by answering the core Who What Why When How questions.

Don't make suggestions. just ask questions. If he's way off mark, ask another question that helps get him back on track (give plenty of leeway on this - it's not your work smile ) and then suggest that he writes that sentence down.

Do this two ir three times and he'll soon be following that pattern himself.

TuTu Sat 19-Jan-13 21:56:41

Thank you all so, so much for your advice and suggestions, and to know that not alone. Have done alot of soul searching today, and have realised that I am far too quick to pass comment on the way DS does things, or to disagree with what he is saying. This may well have undermined his own confidence in the value of his own opinion. Going to try really hard to be much more conscious of what I say, and be much more encouraging of him taking more control of things.

We still felt we had to follow through with the deal we had made about earning back the Wii time, so I asked him (and his brother, so it felt like they were both in this together) to write a couple of sentences this afternoon, saying he had 15 minutes to try to get it done in. They were given a jar with 4 chocolate treats in, and told that each time they were able to get the work done in the time they could take a chocolate treat, and when the jar was empty, the Wii could come back.

Before we started I talked through with them an example (about cars) and took them through writing down the ideas first on a mind map, then numbering them in order that going to write about, then actually writing it out. Then gave them a question about what they did in the snow in the afternoon (so just facts) and left them to it.

They both got it done within the time, and I was so happy I could have cried.
DS was all chuffed with himself.

Going to definitely use the typing or recording route for the next "hard" school homework, as I think this will really free his mind up. Hoping that it will then be a case of building up his confidence bit by bit.

I also take on board suggestions that I should accept that he is the way he is, and not be trying to change him. Its so great to get someone else's perspective on things, as you get so caught up sometimes, and can lose focus on whats truly important.

mercibucket Sat 19-Jan-13 16:28:24

is he dyslexic?

my brother and sister are both dyslexic and this sounds familiar. my sister uses dictation software and it helps a lot.

marmitepeanutbutter Sat 19-Jan-13 16:21:49

Thank you for your post. I feel so relieved to have someone else through the same as us. I have an incredibly bright 10 year old who breezes through maths and science, reads like a demon, he is currently reading Lord of the Rings, Oliver Twist and Anne Frank, he does well at comprehension and his handwriting and spelling are fine but every piece of writing he has to do takes 3 times as long as it should as he has a total mental block. He eventually writes something reasonable but the trauma is real. He has a tutor but it is a real 3 steps forward 2 steps back operation. He is sitting selective exams next year and in theory should do well as he is already close to 100% on practice maths and comprehension but I can't see him passing if he can't get his writing down on paper.

ProphetOfDoom Sat 19-Jan-13 01:39:04

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ProphetOfDoom Sat 19-Jan-13 01:37:52

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

YetAnotherMum Sat 19-Jan-13 01:21:21

TuTu I could have written that post exactly when my ds was in year 6. He too would sit staring into space for hours when asked to write anything remotely fictional. His spelling was also very poor & handwriting practically illegible. I was so worried that I paid for a tutor for 6 months to improve his spelling & handwriting, as I worried how he would cope at secondary. At the end of the 6 months the tutor, who was excellent, couldn't improve his spelling & taught him to touch type as handwriting also proved impossible to help! Like your Ds, he was very diligent & hard working.

However secondary school suited him better than primary as there is not really much call for just making up a story, although he still struggled with English & got a C at GCSE. He was still very quiet in class but able to do written work of things like history well because it seemed to be a case of learning facts & writing those down rather than really expressing his own opinion.

To cut a long story short, he is now at Oxford doing physics, but is still unable to write a 3 line thank you letter without taking all day! I'm afraid I haven't got any real advice for you other than some people's brains are just built like that & there is not much that anyone can do about it, or perhaps should want to. Why should everyone have to be able to 'open up' emotionally, plenty others can do that. Your Ds can supply the facts.

I remember the frustration so well though - I really sympathise.

TotallyTopical Sat 19-Jan-13 00:00:40

It seems to be linked into expressing his own opinions on things. Is he worried about being judged? A school environment can be (not always, before I get flamed) absolutely brutal to children who have the wrong opinions or like or dislike the wrong things. Or he might just consider his own thoughts,feelings and opinions to be private and not to be shared in school.

If this is the case, could you look at ways of getting around the need to share his own thoughts by approaching his writing work more analytically. "Some people think this, other people think that" type of thing.

Dont know if this will help but if he's good at verbally expressing himself, can you type as he speaks, print, then he can copy it out? I struggle to think and write at the same time sometimes, my mind gets ahead of my hands, I'm writing one thing and thinking about the next.

Yellowtip Fri 18-Jan-13 23:17:56

Don't worry too much about writing and spelling at this stage TuTu. Him clamming up is much worse. My own Y6 is my eighth DC. This stuff is easier in hindsight, believe me, it really is.

TuTu Fri 18-Jan-13 22:30:54

Thanks for the suggestions.... will definitely try these, as a way to break the cycle

Could you get him to record it verbally and show the teacher? Other type it? Anything to break the cycle, because I don't think forcing it will work, personally.

My Y6 DS has awful writing. He knows this. He is working on it. If his writing and spelling is criticised then the content dries up. If teachers (he doesn't have homework) emphasise that content is what matters, then he will do his best with the presentation and it is slowly improving.

TuTu Fri 18-Jan-13 22:24:42

Just read your post Yellowtip. I am open to all opinions, thats why I came on here, as feeling so guilty and upset about it. Never want to have a night like that again, and do so want my happy go lucky son back. He is my eldest. Strangely I'm not so hung up about the school progress, its more about how to get him to express himself, make decisions etc. He needs to be able to do this for later in life

TuTu Fri 18-Jan-13 22:21:28

Thanks for reading my long post and replying.

Yes he is definitely able to do the work. Had a good chat with his teacher and she specifically chose a topic on space for them to work on, knowing this was one of his interests, and she said it was just painful to try and draw any writing out of him. Every teacher he has had has said the same thing.

Yet I have typed out for him whilst he has dictated stories before, just as a home fun thing, and he is amazingly creative and fluent verbally. He just seems to have this huge mental block about writing. He is a sloppy writer and careless speller, and I dont know if too much criticism on that side of things has now just tagged all writing as totally unpleasant for him.

I had tried talking to him about books he has loved before, but even then its like pulling teeth.

Yellowtip Fri 18-Jan-13 22:17:02

I feel very sorry for your DS TuTu and sorry for you too, because I think you expect too much. Is DS your eldest or only DC? I guess you're in the private sector too, in an area with considerable competition for decent secondary places. Apologies if that's wrong.

I'm at the opposite end of the spectrum with a Y6 DC who has never been set homework in her life, other than spellings. It's a little frustrating, but I haven't let it get overly so. I've tried to fill in the gaps, rather languidly. But that has saved direct confrontation with school, which is a good.

What are your plans for secondary schooling? Is this homework necessary to that? Can't you help him relax? Getting uptight in Y6 is not good, poor little fellow. Nothing about these tasks is going to make or break his future, it might help to hang on to that.

TreadOnTheCracks Fri 18-Jan-13 22:12:32

He must be having to do similar work in lessons. So he must be able to do it.

Have you had a chat with the teacher about this specifically. Is there a fiction book he likes reading? Harry Potter etc? Could she set some homework around that, might get him motivated?

I think you probably did the right thing today, and he now knows you mean business.

In your situation I think I'd try to get it so that he does his homework to "earn" the priviledge of time on his Wii.

TuTu Fri 18-Jan-13 21:59:53

a little bump!

TuTu Fri 18-Jan-13 21:45:50

I have a really adorable, gentle, good natured DS who is very bright, totally loves reading all books, and is a font of knowledge on all thing science or nature related. He has always been in the top three in his year group.

However he struggles hugely with expressing himself in terms of giving opinions on things in conversation, and finds much harder again expressing opinions in any writing homework. Each teacher he has had, has always said how frustrated they are that he wont "open up" or contribute, as they know he so able and competent.

He is now in yr 6 at school and as the written homework gets more open ended he has got into a complete brain freeze when it comes to ANY question not purely factual. He just can sit there for 30 mins and not write a word. His face is in contortions and he just gets all whiny that he doesnt know what to, cant think what to write etc. I have always helped him along up to now with suggestions and eventually drag the answers out of him. When he does actually get it to paper it is usually excellent in content.

But this is now taking so long to get homework done, and is such a negative cycle to be in, that we decided to go hardline tonight and just tell him to get on with it himself (as he had already drawn out a mind map the night before of what his answer was to be about. All he had to do was fill it out a tiny bit). It all descended into us getting cross, him getting upset, us insisting he had to just write something, him getting more upset, and so on. At the end of about an hour he eventually wrote a few lines down on page, in tears, and he missed having any time for playtime. We also told him the Wii was going to be put away for a few days and would have to be earned back by him doing some similar writing work every day for 5 days to prove to himself that he can do this.

What a night. Feel an emotional wreck. Have never made my child so upset before and feel terrible. Dont know if have now made things 10 times worse, or whether taking the hard line was what we had to do.

Thank you if you have read all of this. Any advice or similar experiences would be hugely appreciated

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