Children in private education are often from high achieving and wealthy backgrounds with big demands made of them in terms of academic and social performance.
Most of the children will be able to cope with the pressure and produce acceptable results, but for some of them it will be really difficult. The two main reasons why children have trouble are neurodevelopmental disorders and emotional issues, and many children have both.
The most common neurodevelopmental disorders are ADHD, autism (including Aspergers), Tourette's and tics, dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia. They are fairly common; the British Dyslexia Association estimate that 4% of the population are severely affected by dyslexia and according to the National Autistic Society, 1.1% of people have some level of autism.
When a neurodevelopmental disorder is very obvious it can be a little easier for parents to accept it and take steps to help their child. Sometimes when the disorder is milder parents will hope that it isn’t really there, or that it will go away, so they are less willing to get help.
Our advice is that if you suspect that your child is processing information in any way differently from their peers, then you and they can only gain from getting a better understanding of what is going on. It’s best to do this as early as possible, before problems start in earnest.
Testing can sound scary, but it should be a relaxed interaction with a sensitive and experienced child mental health expert, who can help establish exactly where any difficulties lie. Costs for a private assessment with an educational psychologist usually start at around £500 and increase according to complexity.
Inevitably children will find childhood and adolescence emotionally challenging, as life is for everyone at times. Some children will struggle more than others though, and these are usually the ones persistently engaging in ‘problem behaviours’, such as smoking, drinking, drug taking, eating disorders, and self-harm. There are newer things to worry about such as online bullying, sexting and legal highs, but we don’t think it’s necessarily relevant what they are doing, it’s why they are doing it that we’re interested in.
They are all very logical and effective ways for your child to change the way they feel, so the questions we think you might be asking is not “why is my child taking drugs?” but “why is my child so unhappy?”.
Schools are equipped to care best for the majority of young people who are doing OK or better, and they often really struggle to help children with these problems. One reason is that they are
focussed on the disciplinary aspect of the situation, rather than looking deeper at what is driving it. ‘Problem kids’ are an embarrassment for a school that is promising to produce perfect children, and other parents are often unhappy about a disruptive child in their class. Private schools also have, and often use, the option of moving a child on, which is much more difficult in state schools.
So if your child’s behaviour has been raised with you more than once by his or her teacher, then it’s worth thinking hard about what is driving it. If your child has ever been suspended or expelled, then it’s definitely time to do something.
You might quite rightly be thinking that these things are a normal part of adolescent experimentation, but about 10% of children are engaging in them more intensely than their peers. Children are pretty good at identifying this in each other, and any group of children could usually tell you who it is in their year.
If you think that your child might be finding life more difficult than their peers then it’s worth considering having a chat with a child psychologist. Child psychologists have many different specialisms, so you want one that understands emotional difficulties and family functioning. Look for someone who has a good number of years’ experience, and who you can relate to.
You can start by having an informal consultation that doesn’t have to involve your child, and it can give you an objective expert view that can put your problems into perspective. They might tell you that what your child is experiencing is normal, or if not they can help you think about how to help.
Children and young people today are under a lot more pressure than when their parents were at school. Schooling has improved immeasurably, as has the pastoral care, but it can still be very tough being young. For kids who are having a hard time there is really effective help to be had, so whatever the cause is we suggest you grasp the nettle early and face up to whatever the problem is, it can save your family a lot of heartache further down the line.