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School Aged Children

By: Lisa Arthur

What happens when you no longer have a “preemie baby boy,” rather an older son who is just uncoordinated enough to not “play well with the other boys?” I can tell you a little of what happens; information is no longer readily available, and parents begin to believe they are “flying solo.” Between the Internet, resource magazines, medical journals, and preemie support groups, information on premature infant care is easily found by curious fingertips. If the premature baby was diagnosed with a specific disorder i.e.: Cerebral Palsy, Down’s syndrome, Autism, the parents are often led to support groups and medical specialist in those fields. But what if your premature child is mildly delayed and requires some special help, yet does not qualify for therapy through the school, county, or state? He does not stand out to others as having obvious issues, yet the subtlety is there. How do you keep your child from slipping through the cracks in school? This is where the information becomes sparse. The support groups are often very focused on specific disorders and do not apply to this particular child. There are websites and books for the child who is emotionally disturbed, but that does not quite fit either.

Parents of a growing preemie boy between the ages of say, 5 and 12, often find their child is suddenly supposed to “enjoy” and participate in local sports or neighborhood sports activities. What is to enjoy if he is repeatedly the last kid picked for a team and often the punch line of the “loser” jokes? Of course there are some who “choose” not to participate in such activities due to a lack of interest or because they prefer to avoid these situations altogether, however there is another group of young boys who “want” to participate but find it very difficult, frustrating, and even humiliating.

“Mommy, kickball is the ONLY game I can play and they won’t let me!” This is a conversation I had with one of my premature twin boys this summer. Even neighborhood friends who are “sports fanatics” find it difficult to accept having this “dead weight” on their team. What makes these preemie kids stand out as being so different? Is it the awkward gait when running, the slower speed, or their obvious “fear” of catching the ball or being tackled by bigger, stronger kids? The answer is yes to all of these questions. Kids are extremely tough on other kids and feelings are easily hurt. The same situation occurs in school and parents of premature boys often find that recess and gym class are the “torture” of the day for these boys.

So what IS out there? What can be done to promote a healthy, confidence building environment while teaching your child how to respond properly to these situations? Number one is to find that one special talent in your son. Everyone…EVERYONE has a special talent. Finding and developing that talent may be tricky but it is there! Music is a wonderful option. Early piano lessons can help develop those fine motor skills and teach the child to read music in both clefs; a great way to start a lifelong love of music. Art lessons, too can promote the development of fine motor skills and there are many different types of art; your child may love painting or perhaps working with clay will be more suitable. Perhaps cooking classes is the thing that will make your son excited. There are drama groups and also video technology clubs right here in the Fredericksburg area, just to name a few.

Number two is promoting self confidence and leadership abilities. Preventing your son from becoming a “follower” is essential. Boys who lack self confidence will “go along with the crowd” if it makes him feel he is fitting in. This mom is a firm believer in the positive atmosphere of Scouting. Cub and Boy Scouts teach boys to experiment in a multiple array of activities including camping, hiking, archery, chess, swimming, and much more. Scouting also helps a boy develop those leadership skills which are essential in life.

Number three is to be your son’s best advocate…and sometimes you may find you are his ONLY advocate. Do not be afraid to address his school if you feel he needs to be evaluated for speech or some additional instructional time. The old adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the most oil” can be beneficial to the parent in this case. The more you bring the attention of the school into your child’s needs, the more realization occurs for all children in this situation. Do not let your son slip through the cracks and just “get by” in school. There are many opportunities for extra help once you find the right communication.

And number four is to provide a very positive and loving environment at home. When a child feels pressured all day by other children, the best thing for him to come home to is a warm, safe, and accepting home. Let your son know he is perfect just as he is and how fortunate your family is to have him as a member. Let him “teach” you something or lead the family in an activity. Encourage your son to be an avid reader and help him develop those essential writing skills. Finding a great tutor is also a wonderful way to develop these skills that will be so helpful later in life.

Premature issues tend to fade over time, or at least the child learns to work with their delays or issues. Unfortunately this often does not occur until the child is more mature physically and mentally so getting him through these tough years in a positive way is pertinent to a successful, happy childhood.

Links:

Boy Scout Districts:

Mattaponi: http://www.ncacbsa.org/mattaponi/

Aquia: http://www.ncacbsa.org/aquia/

Premature Children Sites:

www.prematurity.org

www.comeunity.com/premature/index.html

Lisa Arthur is the mom of premature identical twin boys and a daughter, the wife of an active duty Air Force pilot, a writer and sales rep for Fredericksburg Parent Magazine, substitute teacher, and community volunteer.

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