The answer to the question of whether or not your child needs to see a psychologist is simple: yes –– and so do you.
Surprised? Sure, I could be wrong. You may be perfect and your child may be perfect, as well. But that is obviously unlikely. A licensed child and adolescent psychologist can give you an objective reading of your child’s personality, interests, and intellectual strengths and weaknesses. Your own emotional bond with your child limits your vision. Psychologists can provide objective information that will allow you to get closer to your child and help your child make smart decisions when it comes to school, vocations, and/or college.
You can probably benefit from consultation yourself. When I look around at my adult acquaintances, I see some of them doing the wrong things harder and harder, penalizing themselves in their relationships and marriages as well as financially. Most wouldn’t want to spend a thousand dollars for an in-depth psychological evaluation, but would think nothing of spending $400 a night for a hotel in New York City. One strong mark of mental and emotional health is self-disclosure, yet we are reluctant and even fearful to open up to a stranger.
Better knowledge about your child is really valuable when it comes to your child’s education. The major invalidating flaw I see in every single school reform book is the focus on teachers, administrators, curriculum, testing, etc. That’s just plain wrong. The focus needs to be on the students. As I point out in The Elephant in the Classroom, most reformers ignore individual differences in children. Sure, they show interest in children who are significantly different, such as gifted children, autistic children, or learning disabled children. But they tend to forget that all children are different and all are unique.
The idea that children are pretty much the same is a great American Myth. We speak glibly about our students as if they are the same. Because of similar clothing styles, slouching to look cool, or letting their pants hang down in the back, they evoke a certain similarity. But they’re all different. Remember the stage play, A Chorus Line? Yes, when you line them up they look the same, but when you ask them who they are, learn their history, and discover their strengths and weaknesses, you find they have much that is not in common.
So who the heck are they? This one’s a right brainer and that one’s a left brainer, this one seems tough but is emotionally tender underneath, this one’s verbal and that one’s nonverbal, this one pretends to care less, but is really motivated, while that one thinks school sucks. This one’s clumsy and the guy with the huge shoulders is a jock, this one has trouble discriminating sounds and that one loves phonics. This one has beautiful handwriting (which she won’t be using much anymore because of technology) and that one is so left-brained he writes like a physician –– poor kid!
This one’s an introvert and that one’s an extrovert. This one’s a daddy’s boy, that one never had a daddy. This one gets to class early and that one’s always late. This one smiles when he’s angry and that one frowns when he’s happy. This one’s afraid of shooting his eye out with a BB gun and that one likes to steal hubcaps. This one can learn in one-to-one tutoring but can’t learn in class, while that one can’t learn unless she’s in a group. This one cuts up in class because she’s bright and bored and that one draws comic books in class because he’s inspired.
A psychological evaluation doesn’t exclude parent and teacher input. Parents have the best sample of the child’s behavior over time and teachers can compare the child with the peer group. It’s up to parents to pull all of these sources of information together.
Author Ruby Payne gives lectures to teachers about children raised in poverty. She wants to “confront the cultural gap that separates middle-class teachers from children’s hard-scrabble communities.” This makes a lot of sense because it asks teachers to recognize that children’s responses may reflect their culture. Payne is criticized for this, however, because it could reinforce stereotypes. “Divided by Lessons in Poverty,” Marlene Sokol, Tampa Bay Times, July 13, 2015.
Kids from poverty backgrounds may share some culturally-based personality features, but teachers also need to realize that each of these children is unique, regardless of their socio-economic background.
It’s asking a lot to expect teachers to fully grasp individual differences in their students, but teachers need to at least discover their students’ learning styles and what motivates them to learn. After all, teaching is not the presentation of facts, but is rather a drawing out process that evolves from the teacher-student relationship.
I gave my own children a head start and took them for psychological evaluations. One was identified as highly verbal and interested in academics. He became a history professor. Our second child was strong in math and had an interest in science. He is now in neuropsychology. Our third child was not highly motivated by academics, but was a really social and engaging person. He is now a stockbroker and financial planner.