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Helping Your Learning Disabled Child

Helping Your Learning Disabled Child

Helping children with learning disabilities deal with their negative feelings about school.

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Children who have learning disabilities may become discouraged about school because they carry a double burden – they must manage all the regular trials of childhood along with the strength and spirit needed to overcome their disability.

Today, more children are having evaluations and getting their learning disabilities identified. New strategies and modifications are put into place that can help children learn. For example, children with dyslexia can take oral tests instead of written ones. A child with social issues maybe given extra help and supervision during recess time. But classroom learning, homework and/or social situations can still be stressful for them.

It is difficult to watch our children struggle and as parents we often don't know what to do. We know they’re experiencing trouble at school but at the same time we want to help children take responsibility for their learning. We want them to develop a love for learning despite their difficulties.

We want to jump in and help or let them off the hook, but the best thing we can do for children is to offer them support in ways that do not undermine their ability to work hard. We want to them know we are here for them, but we also have faith in their ability to put in the effort they need to overcome their very real challenges.

Here are four ways that we can do that:

1. Use Empathy:

When a child is struggling at school, they may complain using very unspecific, global terms:

“I hate school!”
“I am not doing any homework!”
“My teacher hates me!”
“My friends are so mean!”

In each of these cases we want to avoid taking these complaints at face value. Our children are essentially telling us one thing: “I am struggling with school and making friends and I need your help to let me know that I’m going to be okay.”

We want to give reassurance and support but still let children know that we have faith that they can overcome and manage their learning disability. To help us do that we can start with an empathetic word and then ask gently, “What are you going to do?” or “What can you do?”

“This is tough. The assignment is to read this paragraph and you don’t want to. What are you going to do?”
“This is rough. Homework is overwhelming you right now. What can you do?”
“You sound so upset about this project you were assigned. What can you do?”
“It’s rough to be teased, what can you do when you feel hurt like that?”

When we empathize we show our children that we care and we understand. Gently asking the question “What can you do?” not only guides children to think of ways to resolve their issues, it also gives a soft message that they are capable of managing their own problems.

2. Take some of the pressure off:

Our society values academic achievement above all. Many think that children who do well in school will have a smooth path to success as adults.

But it is not true. We all know many people who were poor students who have achieved great things in life and are very successful, happy adults. Their talents were not appreciated in school and it was only when they left school that they began to flourish.

If we adopt a bit of a laissez fare attitude about our children’s schoolwork, we will be less worried and more able to focus on what our children are truly good at and help them cultivate their strengths.

This leads us to our next point.

3. Help Children understand and appreciate their strengths and weaknesses:

All people need to identify their strength and weaknesses. This can help us in all areas of life. It is even more important for a child who struggles in school to verbalize and recognize what they are good at.

Most children with learning disabilities are told what their deficits are and what areas they need to work on. Few are told what their strengths are. Brooks and Goldstien in their book, Raising Resilient Children, write: “We recommend that for every hour of additional work that children in need spend, they spend an hour engaging in activities that are strengths. These activities help them feel good, experience success, and develop a resilient mindset.”

The Life Success Parent Guide interviews adults who overcame their learning disabilities. One interviewee observed the following:

“Everybody comes with a package. And yeah, there are things that I am good at and things that I am not so good at. Some of my limitations are reading and writing. But boy, when it comes to putting things together, reading plans, and chasing down problems, those are some talents, some skills that I was born with…I carved a different path and my whole life has been that way.”

This person understood very clearly what he was good at and used it to forge a life for himself despite his learning difficulties.

4. Praise Children for their Effort and Persistence:

Carol Dweck, the author of Growth Mindset, suggests that instead of telling children that they are smart, we should praise children for their effort, for working hard, persevering at a difficult task and figuring out solutions to problems.

Children who are praised in this way are motivated to learn and will challenge themselves academically. They feel that they have control over their intelligence and they only have to increase their effort to succeed at school.

This can be especially encouraging to children with learning disabilities because they usually do work hard, but often they still don't do well. When that does happen we want to further support them by saying:

“I liked the effort you put in, let’s work together some more and figure out what it is you don't understand.”

“We all have different learning curves. It make take more time for you to catch on to this and be comfortable with this material, but if you keep at it like this you will.”

“Everyone learns in a different way. Let’s keep trying to find the way that works for you.”

Children with learning disabilities need our compassion but they also need to know that they can overcome their academic challenges. Being empathetic, taking the pressure off, helping children understand their strengths and praising them for their hard work can give them the support they need to overcome their challenges.

November 2, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Sandy, November 3, 2014 7:47 AM

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ― Albert Einstein

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