A+ Advice for Parents

Q: My third-grade daughter is struggling in school. She is anxious and thinks she's dumb. I'm worried that she might have a learning problem. How can I find out?

A: It's not unusual for a child to be anxious about going to school once in a while, especially early in the year. But if she's feeling like she's dumb and is struggling, take steps to find the reason why.

Amanda Morin, an educator and parent advocate, says it's important to know your daughter is not alone in having these anxieties and challenges. In fact, roughly 1 in 5 kids have some type of challenge.

You may have heard the term "learning disabilities," however, "the term 'learning and attention issues' is a little broader. It covers a wide range of challenges kids face -- whether their issues have been formally identified or not," says Morin, who's an adviser at understood.org, a nonprofit organization for parents whose children have learning and attention issues.

Having these challenges doesn't mean a child isn't intelligent. "In fact, kids with learning and attention issues tend to be just as smart as their peers," Morin explains.

Learning and attention issues are brain-based difficulties that can create struggles in different ways and to varying degrees. Kids may have trouble with reading, writing, math, organization, concentration, listening comprehension, social skills, motor skills or a combination of these.

It can be hard to know whether you're seeing signs of learning and attention issues in your daughter if you're not sure what skills are typical for her age and what's expected of her developmentally and academically. To see key developmental milestones for third-graders, check out Morin's article, "Developmental Milestones for Typical Second and Third Graders," at understood.org.

This will help you get a better sense of where her skills fall. It's also useful to become familiar with the academic skills kids usually learn in third grade. For some key concepts she'll master, go to understood.org's article, "What Third-Grade Academic Skills Typically Look Like in Action."

Meet with your daughter's teacher to see what she has noticed. Is your daughter having trouble with recognizing letters or with rhyming? Is reading, writing or math a challenge? Is she more distractible or less focused than other kids her age? Is she having trouble making friends?

You can ask your school district to do a free educational evaluation to identify issues your daughter may have and to help guide the type of support she will need at home and school.

The evaluation may introduce terms like "learning disability" or "learning disorder." Those phrases are necessary to open doors to important services and supports for kids with learning and attention issues. It's a way to get your daughter on a path to success -- so don't be too concerned about the label.

Neither you nor your daughter is alone in this, says Morin. "Learn what the experience may look like through your child's eyes at understood.org," she says. "Connect with other parents on the site. They can share experiences and tips that can help clear up confusion and make your journey easier."

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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