Research on parents’ struggles with supporting dyslexic children gives teachers a window into a complex relationship
The relationship between parent and teacher is often a strained one. Teachers are the experts. Yet, parents know their children better than anyone and often pick up things that teachers miss in the hundreds of competing demands on their time.
Dyslexia is one of the most come causes of stress and breakdown in the parent-teacher relationship. Whether it be disagreements over diagnosis or support, everything has been made harder in recent years by constricting budgets.
Yet, maintaining a strong dialog between parent and teacher is the best way to identify and support a young dyslexic. Alternatives, like changing school or battling through the EHCP systems are a traumatic and unnecessary burden for all concerned.
Early this year, the British Dyslexia Association in partnership with Parenting Dyslexia and Helen’s Place, set out to understand to what extent raising a child with dyslexia affects parents, how capable they felt in the role and critically for teachers, how they viewed their relationship with schools.
Parents feel out of their depth
What came through most clearly in the survey of 1,300 parents, is they do not feel they have the knowledge to support their dyslexic child. Almost all, 95 percent, of respondents felt they lacked the skills and knowledge to support their children.
This indicates that much of the frustration between parents and teachers may not be down to parents thinking that schools should be following their guidance on support but rather a desperate want to access the insights of the expert, the teacher.
One parent commented, “…there is very little support out there for children and parents. We are guessing most of the time and feel like we are screaming for help.”
Having a dyslexic child impacts home life
As much as parents love and support their children, a child with dyslexia can often be more stressful to parent.
Seventy seven percent of parents felt exhausted by having to deal with their child’s dyslexia, and 76 percent of parents said that they sometimes lost patience and got frustrated with their dyslexic child. Showing that frustrations teachers see as animosity toward them, may have started with additional stresses at home.
One parent typified the struggle, “At the weekend, I take my daughter to her tutors, so I miss every Saturday morning with my other children. By the time I come home, I have just enough time to get through the housework before dinnertime.”
Managing competing demands and tight budgets can leave parents feeling fobbed off
The survey attracted over 2,500 comments, many around how parents felt towards schools. A common theme was that when teachers were managing differing demands and finite resources, parents interpreted this as dismissing their concerns.
The pressure schools are under to avoid adding children to the SEN register was explained by this teacher, “As a teacher, I’m told to tell parents that you cannot test for dyslexia and that parents need to pay privately if they wish, but we as a school don’t have to follow private assessments. Parents are also told that it [dyslexia] is not possible to recognise before seven years old.”
However, the result of this pressure on teachers is experienced like this, “I could see that she was struggling but got fobbed off by the school that it was a phase and she would eventually get it. She is such an anxious and angry girl who hates school and has to be physically held some days to go in.”
The research found that this resulted in 70 percent of parents feeling that their child’s school did not take their concerns about dyslexia seriously.
Interactions between teacher and parents are often highly charged
At the end of the day, parent and teacher have the same goal, a happy and achieving child. Yet, pressure of the system and misunderstanding of motives are leading to tense and often counterproductive discussions around supporting young dyslexics.
Seventy four percent of parents said they felt anxious when they had interactions with their child’s school, 70 percent said they felt disempowered during interactions with their child’s school and 55 percent of parents felt they were unable to communicate effectively with their child’s school. Seeing these figures, it is no wonder teachers find it difficult to build a collaborative relationship with parents.
Teachers can lead in defusing a tense environment
It’s not easy to work with parents of young dyslexics when 82 percent of them report they sometimes feel angry with their dyslexic child’s school. Yet, with budgets remaining tight and pressures always growing, it is necessary for teachers to double down on championing a cooperative atmosphere if things are going to improve.
Whilst increased time and financial resources are an option, investing in helping parents understand the realities of what is available, limited as it may be, and giving practical steps to access it will empower them. Overwhelming, the feedback is that that parents just want to help and giving them ways to will channel their energy into a productive avenue will improve life for all concerned.