Tough choices

Parenting means making difficult decisions on behalf of your children, Chris Hunt shares

Riley Hunt

I’m a reasonably well-adjusted adult male.

Thus, like most reasonably well-adjusted adult males, I tend to keep my displays of openly weeping in public to the bare minimum, say when my favourite sports team trades a star player for a bag of peanuts or when I stub my pinky toe.

The following sentence is one I’ve actually uttered: “See that guy crying?  He’s not walking with a limp, so he must be a Sens fan.” Basically, I weep at stuff most men can relate to.


My son Riley has working memory issues, which has caused some scholastic challenges in school. He was in the French program and just wasn’t progressing at the same rate as his classmates. 

He had a limited French vocabulary and couldn’t understand basic instruction. His teachers said if this lack of progression persisted, they’d recommend holding him back a year. 

Or we could move him into the English program. The problem with switching him was he’d be entering Grade 2 at a kindergarten reading level. 

Then there was the social issue. Despite his scholastic struggles, he enjoyed school. He’d been with the same kids for over three years and had forged some incredibly close bonds.

When we originally broached the idea of switching him to English, Riley panicked. We told him switching classes would depend on him. If he could boost his grades, he could stay. 

To his credit, he did try. Every night we’d work on his French vocabulary.  But every night there was a struggle. He’d forget words he had just read, which would cause him to become frustrated and reluctant to continue, which in turn caused his mother and I to lose patience.

We hired a tutor.  It helped, or so we thought.  His grades improved, albeit incrementally.

But then we got a call from his teacher.

Turns out things were worse. Riley still didn’t have the vocabulary needed to understand basic instruction. Since he couldn’t follow along in class, he took to talking to his friends as his teacher lectured, distracting them. During tests he copied from his best friend’s work, which likely contributed to his moderately improved marks.

The faculty told us we could see if working extensively with the tutor would help.  Or we could switch him to English.

Of course, there was no guarantee switching programs would improve his learning as the working memory concern would persist regardless of what program he was in. We could rip him from a class he loved with nary a promise it would help.

As a parent, how do you decide what is the best? Your child is struggling, you have two options, each with the potential to both help and shatter your little one’s development.

How do you choose?

There was too much uncertainty around each choice to weigh pros and cons and parenting articles weren’t much help. It wasn’t until we spoke to his tutor that we came to a decision. 

She explained she had noticed Riley was struggling with French. She said Riley was a smart kid and if we switched him to English, he’d be one of the top students. But then she added, “He has so much to say.  Can you imagine how difficult it must be for him to not be able to express himself?”

We made the decision to switch him. When we told him, he cried fiercely. “What if the kids don’t like me daddy? What if I don’t even make one friend?”
That’s when tears started to sting my eyes.

Fortunately, this tale has a happy ending. In the months following the switch he received perfect scores on consecutive math tests and his reading skills have exploded. Oh, and he has many new friends.

So, we made the right decision. This time.