Talking to Your Child About Testing

You’ve decided that an assessment will be critical for your child’s future: to better understand your child and get them the help that they need. But how do you communicate this to your child? How do you help your child become as excited and invested in the process as you are?

While every family may have a different variation on this conversation, here are some ideas and tips to get you started.

The Basics

The purpose of an assessment is to learn about how you learn. This helps teachers know how to teach you, it helps parents know the best ways to support you, and helps you know how to advocate for yourself.

A basic way to explain the assessment to your child may sound like this:

I’ve noticed this year seems tough for you. Even though you’re doing so well in ___, I notice ___ is getting really hard, but I’m not sure why. I’ve been thinking that if we knew more about how you learn, your teachers and I could do a better job teaching you. Last week, we met with a person who could help us find a way to make school easier for you. We’d like you to work with her for a few sessions to help us figure out what we can do differently.

A Different Kind of Doctor’s Appointment

Children may have all kinds of ideas of what “going to the doctor” looks like. It’s important to let them know that they are not sick, and there is nothing wrong with them. Rather, this is a place where you get to learn about your brain and how it works!

Also, there will be no shots and no gross medicines at this doctor’s office.

Here’s what will happen:

Dr. Liz will do different activities with you to figure out how you learn best, where your strengths are, and why some things are hard right now. Some will be fun, some will be easy and some will challenge you. If there is anything that you are worried or concerned about, we should let Dr. Liz know so that she can help us find a solution.

What if my child doesn’t want to be assessed?

If you are worried your child will resist coming in for an assessment, you are not alone! The assessment will be most powerful if your child is engaged and interested in the process. So how do we get them there?

Tip #1: Use your child’s words to describe the problem

Many children know there is a problem, even long before we do. However, they may not use our same words to describe what is difficult, which can lead to disagreement about what the actual problem is. Here are some examples of adult and child perspectives:

Adult view of the problem Child’s view of the problem
My child is failing his math tests because he doesn’t understand it. My math teacher doesn’t like me.
My child won’t do her homework and procrastinates until the last minute. My parents are always nagging me!
My child is impulsive and shouts out in class. My teacher is always getting me in trouble for no reason.
My child needs more time than others. I hate school. It’s too hard.

You have decided to have an assessment to help solve a problem. Your child will be invested in the process if we can identify that problem they wish to solve as well. By using their words, we let them know that we understand where they are coming from, and that this assessment is truly to help them.

Here are some examples of how you might introduce the idea of an assessment using your child’s view:

I’ve noticed that you really don’t like your math teacher this year. I’d like to see if we could figure out why it’s been so hard.

I’ve noticed that we are in a bad nagging cycle around homework. I know you don’t like it and I don’t like it either. I wonder if there’s a way we can break out of it.

I’ve noticed you’re getting in trouble a lot this year and it doesn’t seem to make sense. I wonder if there’s a way we can figure it out together.

I heard you say that you hate school, and I can totally see why! Let’s see if there’s a way to change that.

Tip #2: Talk over ice cream

When children find out they have to go to the doctor, a common thought is, “what’s wrong with me?!” Some children may also worry that they are in trouble or they have done something wrong. It is very important that they know this is not the case.

For this reason, I recommend talking to your child in a place where it is obvious that there is nothing wrong and they are not in trouble. Having a bowl of ice cream, taking the dog for a walk, or playing catch are all good ways to have a conversation without it feeling too “serious”.

Tip #3: Let them know it’s not mandatory

Paradoxically, making sure your child knows you will not force them often makes them more likely to participate.  There may be many reasons why your child is resistant to testing, and it may take a while to uncover and address them all. When students are resistant, I always make sure they know that I will not test them without their permission: it is impossible to get an accurate assessment of a child who is not committed to giving their best during the assessment.

Knowing it’s not mandatory allows us all to relax, and gives space for the child to voice their concerns, and permits you and I to address their worries directly. This helps build our relationship and find a problem that they are interested in solving. At that point, we are all ready to start the assessment.

It may sound like this:

It makes sense that you do not want to do the testing. I can imagine I would be skeptical as well! I will respect your decision if you decide you really do not want to do it. At the same time, I want to make sure you have all the information before you make your final decision. Would you be willing to come check it out with me?

Now I have a chance to speak with your child and find our common ground. It’s there – we just have to do a little digging to find it!

Tip #3: Your Goal is to Solve the Problem (not fix the kid)While we want to be clear there is nothing wrong with your child, we do have acknowledge that something is not working. We don’t want our children to hate school, feel inadequate, or give up. When you talk to your child, be sure to use “problem-solving” words instead of “blaming” words – even when it feels like there’s at least a little bit of blame due (e.g. for procrastinating on homework). It is important for your child to invest in this process, and that means focusing in on the problem they see and want to solve.

Child’s View of the Problem

A Blaming Response 

A Problem-Solving Response

My math teacher doesn’t like me. Your teacher likes you. We just need to figure out why you’re so bad at math. I’m really glad you told me about why math class is so stressful.   I think there may be a way for your teacher to understand you better so math isn’t so awful all the time.
My parents are always nagging me! We need to figure out why you’re not listening to me when I tell you to do your work. I’m glad we can talk about this bad homework-nagging pattern we’re in.   I want to learn more about how I can be helpful without nagging, and how you can get more independent in your work so you don’t need my nagging at all!
My teacher is always getting me in trouble for no reason. We need to figure out how you can stop calling out all the time. That must be hard when your teacher is yelling at you and you have no idea why. I wonder if we can figure out what is going on.
I hate school. If you studied more and got your grades up, you wouldn’t hate it so much. That makes complete sense! School has been a nightmare this year. I wonder if there’s a way we can make it a better experience.

Final Words 

Your child may have many questions about the process that you don’t know how to answer. That’s great news – if your child comes in with questions, it will help them get curious about the process and give us a great starting point as we begin working together. If you’re not sure, just say:

That’s a great question! I’m not sure. Let’s write it down and ask Dr. Liz. 

Do you have more questions for me? Feel free to drop me a note!