Ask Fiona: I'm dyslexic and home-schooling has been so hard

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a parent struggling with home-schooling and a woman who is worried about her elderly mother

Talk to your child's teachers about your difficulties at home
Talk to your child's teachers about your difficulties at home Talk to your child's teachers about your difficulties at home

THE last 12 weeks have been a complete nightmare for me. I'm a single parent with two daughters aged 10 and 13 and I'm also dyslexic. As far as we know, neither of my girls have this problem so they really don't understand what it means, and therefore don't appreciate the struggle home-schooling has been for me.

I'm supposed to motivate them and help them to get through the work they're being set, but when I can't understand it myself, how do I do that?

I'm sure they think I'm stupid because I can't read the way they do, and they know I've not passed many exams, so they think they won't have to either. How can I possibly motivate them?

I'm really worried they'll have fallen behind when they do go back to school. And what will happen if we have another round of this and they have to stay at home again?


FIONA SAYS: If you've not already done so, do talk to your daughters' schools about this – I am sure they have systems in place that can help. While you can encourage them to do their lessons and push them to complete the tasks they've been set, you can only do so much.

Having said that, dyslexia isn't a bar to being a teacher – there are a number of teachers who have dyslexia, in fact, and many believe it makes them better teachers.

It means they tend to have more empathy when children are struggling, because they've been through that themselves. It also means they have to find systems to help themselves to learn and adapt to their dyslexia - and some of these can be passed on to children who don't learn in conventional ways. You have some of these skills too and you have a good opportunity to pass them on to your daughters.

Make the most of the time you have together in other ways – teach them practical skills that schools, these days, often have little time for. Make the most of online learning facilities available too, from the museums, galleries and other institutions – as well of opportunities on TV.

Talk to them about balancing the finances, planning meals, ordering your shopping – get them to help with such things – practical learning and life skills are really valuable and will stand them in good stead.

Children are struggling to cope right now – they are away from their friends and the systems they've got used to, but they will come through this. And schools are already preparing themselves for when the children come back; they know some of them will have managed at home better than others.

The most important thing, though, is that they go back to school feeling confident and secure. They need to know that if they have fallen behind in some areas, they will be helped to catch up. They also need to know that they have the ability and resilience to cope with this unprecedented experience. That's your most important job – not teaching – but providing the love, support and encouragement they need.

I'm sure they don't think you're stupid at all, and by showing them the skills you have learned, they'll soon change their minds anyway. Make sure they understand what dyslexia means because they almost certainly have people in their school peer group coping with dyslexia too. It's a good opportunity to help them to learn about and value other people's differences.


MY 86-year-old mother was diagnosed with dementia and went into a nursing home last year. We'd heard very good reports about the place and mum seemed so happy there. She got on well with the other residents and joined in with all manner of activities – it was like she had a new lease of life.

It's a bit of a hike for us but we managed to get to see her most weeks and were very impressed by how well she seemed to be doing. Then lockdown happened and we haven't been able to get to see her at all, which is why what is happening now has come as such a shock.

Mum had a fall and the home arranged for the doctor to call on her. For four days, in spite of her complaining she was in a lot of pain, she was told it was just her arthritis. I was worried about her and so managed to persuade the staff to get her an X-ray. It turns out she has a broken leg and is now in plaster.

The worst thing for her, though, is that because she's been to the hospital, she now has to stay in isolation for two weeks. What's more, she has to go back to the hospital to have it checked in two weeks' time – after which she will have to go into isolation again.

Why can they just not arrange to test her? It seems so unfair and, when I speak to her on the phone, she's gone from enjoying life to being utterly miserable. I think, if she could walk out, she would.


FIONA SAYS: While I can understand your frustration, I can also understand the cautious approach that the care home is putting in place. It's very hard on your mother – but if she were to pick up the virus whilst in hospital and transmit it to the other residents, consider what their relatives would be saying.

The problem with the tests available is that currently, they only give a positive result when the person is infected. The alternative test for immunity isn't going to be worth doing unless she's already had the virus – and, by the sound of it, the care home staff are trying to ensure that doesn't happen. As the incubation period for Covid-19 is believed to be anything from two to 14 days from exposure, guidelines from the outset have been to isolate for 14 days.

Your mother is very vulnerable and I'm sure many of the other residents of her care home will be too. It is very difficult for homes to balance the emotional welfare of their patients with their physical welfare sometimes. In this instance, though, they are having to put the physical welfare of all the residents first. I checked with the Department of Health and they believe that these precautions are sensible as well.

I know this is a very hard time for families with a loved one in a care home – perhaps you could talk to the home about using a tablet for video conferencing with your mother? If possible and manageable, you may even be able to speak and see each other via video calls several times a day.

Talk to them about what things your mother enjoys doing too, and see if they can help to provide some of those things. Having a radio on with people talking could help her too - just hearing other voices around might make her feel less isolated.

Finally, this may seem like a cruel and unfair situation, but while it is really hard, it really it isn't a question of anyone being heartless. It sounds like you've found a good care facility for your mother that is doing its level best to minimise any risk of transmission to residents. Rather than be upset with them, perhaps be grateful for the high level of care they are giving.


MY 20-year-old daughter, who lives with me, has formed a bubble with her boyfriend. I accepted this as I don't have any other people I would want to be in a bubble with anyway. She plans to go and stay at his house for a few days and I've just found out that she will be sleeping with him.

I cannot understand how she can lower herself like this, when I thought I'd brought her up to have more self-respect. It's affecting the way I feel about her and I'm wondering if I should ask her to leave home.


FIONA SAYS: That sounds a bit drastic, and whilst your beliefs and attitudes are entirely valid, fewer and fewer people will share them.

Coming to terms with the fact that a child has grown up is never easy for a parent. It means letting go of the control that was previously exercised and accepting that, as an adult, your 'child' is now able to make his or her own life decisions.

I am sure she doesn't think she has lowered her standards by going away with this young man. It simply means that her standards are perhaps not the same as yours - not better or worse, just different. So please, try not to let this ruin the relationship you have with your daughter.


MY partner and I have been together for eight years and we love each other very much. He knows I can't help the fact that I get jealous and he's prepared to reassure me whenever I need it.

However, I consulted an online fortune teller recently who told me that someone close to me is going to break my heart. Now I'm terrified he's going to leave me and although I've explained this to him, he just thinks it's funny.

I wish I could laugh it off too but I just can't, and I can't get it out of my head that this is going to happen.


FIONA SAYS: Whoever this fortune teller is, I think she or he is very dangerous. An online fortune teller knows nothing about you and your life and saying vague things like this that cause worry and anxiety is utterly irresponsible.

You and your partner have been together for eight years. He's made it clear that he loves you and wants to be with you, but this fortune teller was probably picking up on your insecurities in order to influence you. And the more you convince yourself that your partner is going to leave you, the more pressure you will be putting on him, and on yourself and the relationship. Eventually it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Stop worrying about what a total stranger has told you and start listening to and trusting your boyfriend and what's right in front of you. I'd also suggest you do something to tackle your lack of self-belief and confidence, so you can trust your own judgment rather than turn to a 'fortune teller' on the internet.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.