Parenting Bright Kids Who Struggle in School: Author Q&A
Parenting Bright Kids Who Struggle in School: Author Q&A
PUBLISHED: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 by Andilynn Feddeler

Parenting Bright Kids Who Struggle in School: A Strength-Based Approach to Helping Your Child Thrive and Succeed guides parents through the challenging and often unfamiliar landscape of raising kids who have been labeled with learning differences, including dyslexia, ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder, and more. Learn more about the book and advocating for kids who learn differently in this interview with the author, Dewey Rosetti.

Q: Can you give a little background on your experience with bright kids who learn differently? How did you come to write this book?

A: My first experience with smart kids who struggled in school was with my own children. I have two girls, 5 years apart, who both went to preschool at age 3 and to an independent all-girls school at age 6. Preschool was a challenge for my older daughter due not to a lack of ability, but to a lack of school readiness. After much testing and early interventions, she became a successful student at that school when she hit the seventh grade. In high school she was a star student in many of her classes as well as a star athlete; she went on to college and graduate school and earned a Ph.D. in her chosen field. My younger daughter was a star in preschool but struggled in elementary school largely due to the fact that she is dyslexic, which was not properly diagnosed and treated with interventions until she was in the fourth grade. 

As I dove into learning about each of my daughters’ learning needs and then helping them become their own best advocates for school and other situations, I became extremely aware of the importance of early intervention and the success factors in parenting bright kids who struggle in school. I learned enough about the fields of psychology, learning, and motivation to give me a passion for helping kids who struggle in school find their own talents and challenges, and eventually learn how to self-advocate and find their own individual pathways to success. 

Eventually I joined a group of parents and school professionals to form an organization—the Parents Education Network (PEN)—designed to help parents of other struggling kids find the right information, perspectives, and tools to help their own children overcome their struggles and become successful not only in school but also in life. 

Observing hundreds of families through PEN gave me insight into the individual differences between students (my own two at first) who are bright, motivated, and anxious to learn but wrestle with invisible obstacles to learning in certain school situations that are inappropriate for their particular learning needs and styles.

It was the success stories of the families who were part of PEN that eventually led me to write a book to give other parents who we couldn’t reach with our grassroots efforts—a healthy and informed perspective on helping their kids succeed through a strength-based approach.

Q: What does it mean for a child to have a “jagged profile”?

A: “Jagged profile” is a term coined by Dr. Todd Rose and others in the field of the Science of Individuality. It refers to the wide differences and inconsistencies that show up in individuals who are bright and have significant learning challenges. The term “jagged” refers to the high scores (abilities) of strengths and the low scores (abilities) in those areas that are challenges.  

The other two terms coined and used in the study of this science are “context” and “pathways,” referring to the tools that should be used in understanding and developing the strengths of any individual.

Q: How does a parent’s mindset affect their approach to parenting bright children who struggle in school? 

A: The terms “growth” and “fixed” mindset were first brought to the public’s attention in 2006 by a Stanford psychologist named Carol Dweck. The studies revealed in her book shed light on how a teacher’s or parent’s mindset about certain individuals’ talents and abilities could greatly affect the motivation and learning behaviors of the students they worked with.

The lesson for parents is vital to helping kids who don’t fit the “normal” profile of what is publicly viewed as “smart” and “successful.” If a parent feels that their child’s abilities are inborn and basically fixed at birth, their approach to parenting will be limited to what they see as their child’s limitations. Their view of their child’s success is often limited to a fixed notion that certain pathways are the only ones to success. This is called a “fixed” mindset. A “growth” mindset, which can be developed over time, is one that allows teachers and parents to see the strengths and possibilities of each child and use language and teaching methods to encourage growth of talents.

Q: What advice would you give for parents working at home with their kids who struggle with school, especially with the COVID-19 stay-at-home rules?

A: As with any time away from school for kids who have negative or stressful school experiences, I see the at-home time as a huge opportunity to identify and nurture the natural strengths your child has. And every child has the strengths of their jagged profile—that is a truth each parent can be assured of. Although school experiences often emphasize the challenges and shortfalls the students have academically, parents can use home time to focus on building self-esteem and resilience, finding ways to emphasize to the child where they are very capable and how to use those capabilities to conquer their challenges. To do this, it is more important than ever for parents to become familiar with their child’s jagged profile and help their child take ownership of it. Note that developing a jagged profile for your child should go beyond school and focus on nonacademic strengths that may not be recognized during school hours. Characteristics like people skills, work ethic, motivation, resilience, appreciation of aesthetics, kindness, open-mindedness, to name only some, are very important success factors not often mentioned during a school day. Another factor of emotionally safe home time is parental willingness to allow kids to pick their own way of relaxing—watching television, listening to audio books, playing video games—within reason. Of course, there is always a tension between covering important schoolwork so the child doesn’t fall behind in school and allowing free time to discover interests and joyful successes. This is not easy but can be eased, perhaps by offering rewards of certain “treats” for doing school work.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your book?

A: The main message from my book is to have an optimistic and hopeful attitude about your child who is struggling in school. I think it is vital to check into your default mindset—is it fixed or growth? Are you a glass half empty or glass half full kind of person? And most importantly, if you know your child is struggling but haven’t yet acknowledged it and talked to them about it, please do so immediately with an attitude of “everything will be okay—we will work together to make school and learning better for you.” I hope people find helpful information in the types of information that helped me and other parents best help their struggling kids. And I hope that parents find the Science of Individuality as enlightening as I have in evaluating and developing talent in our kids.

Dewey Rosetti became an advocate for all children who learn differently after seeing firsthand how a special school for kids with dyslexia transformed hundreds of kids, including her own daughter, into confident learners. Dewey has spent the last 25 years as an advocate, speaker, author, and organizer for all who work for the success of kids who learn differently.