Do You Feel Sorry for Your Struggling Child?

Feeling sorry for a child who struggles with special needs is a common, understandable reaction from a loving parent. But — it’s not going to help your kid. Here’s how to adopt a new mindset that will.

Nine-year-old Amanda walked into my office, a worried frown on her freckled face. She heaved a heavy backpack off of her shoulders, dropping it with a thud and blurted out, “I’m exhausted!” Her mother agreed, noting, “I feel so bad for her all the time. She is under so much stress!”

As a parent, it’s hard not to feel sorry for your own child sometimes. It’s especially hard if your child has the extra burden of an atypical profile. Children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, ADHD, autism, or developmental delays are additionally weighed down by the necessities of their diagnosis, whether extra tutoring, multiple therapies, socialization groups or intensive behavior training programs.

Parents may have to let go of typical fun activities, such as sports teams or school plays, in lieu of prescriptive interventions. It’s emotionally draining both for child and parent. No one wants their child to be different, and yet differences seem to drive the weekly calendar, continually reminding everyone of the “special needs” of the child.

A major reason it is so difficult to keep a positive attitude when your child is atypical is because, like all parents, you worry. You worry that your child will be bullied, have no friends, never go to college or get married. That he’ll suffer.

And yet, because children learn by watching their parents, it is critical to adopt a cheerful attitude. The way you see your child ultimately shapes her own self perspective. On top of everything you’re challenged to do, you have to cultivate optimism, resilience and confidence in your child’s outcome.

Is that hard? You bet it is. But if you keep these Dont’s and Do’s in mind, you’ll find it easier.


Don’t Always look through the disability lens

Your kid is a whole person with different gifts and great potential. The special need aspect is just one aspect of your child’s life.

Don’t Project

Sometimes, parents will worry about something that might happen – but it’s stemming from their own experiences or fears. Are you worried that he won’t be popular because you weren’t popular? Take some time to find out what your child is worried about; you might be surprised to find out that he is much more at ease than you thought.

Don’t Overindulge to “compensate”

Extra video games or unlimited treats, for example, do not have anything to do with your child’s disability. Stick to “typical” rules, while allowing for occasional leniency in circumstances that really do relate to her disability.

Don’t Be too tough

Tough love doesn’t work with atypical kids. Atypical kids are more fragile. Get to know your child and work with him consciously and gently.


DO Step in when necessary

Some atypical kids are prone to social isolation and depression. Teachers, even if unintentionally, can exacerbate the problem. Keep an eye on your child and have open communication so he’ll feel comfortable confiding in you.

You are your child’s advocate, and your child will need assertive intervention at times. This is not “babying” your child. It’s part of your job as a pro-active parent of an atypical child.

DO Encourage participation

Don’t limit your child’s activity options based on what you think she can’t do. If she really wants to join that club or try that sport or take those lessons, chances are there is a way to make it happen.

DO Enjoy the present

Staying in the moment and noticing your amazing child as she unfolds is an important—and joyful—exercise. Take a short break from the everyday jostle to savor small moments of just being together.

DO Express gratitude daily

Before bed, perhaps at tuck-in time, encourage your child to think about what he’s thankful for. Chime in with a few ideas yourself.  Practicing gratitude as a family goes a long way towards ultimate feelings of positivity and happiness.


Looking Forward

Still cleaning up the wrapping paper and tinsel? No time to plan ahead to New Year resolutions? That’s ok!

Sometimes the post holiday blues can take you by surprise- here are some easy tips.

1. Stay with it. Surprised? Trying to avoid your feelings doesn’t help them go away. Acknowledge that it’s ok to be a teeny bit blue after the flurry of holiday excitement – or the lack of it. Acknowledge that this is something that happens to you — and then — visualize the blues drifting away on that sailboat. Visualizing is an actual technique that can send the bad feelings out to sea.

2. Look forward. But not too far forward. Instead of the usual punishing thoughts (lose ten pounds, get in shape), Ask yourself what do I need FOR ME that would truly make me happy, inspire my week and re-set my engine. GO FOR SMALL- no it’s not “win the lottery” but “a nap and time for a good read by the fire”.

3. Gratitude Game: it’s not a cliche. Studies show that we can deliberately increase our sense of well being and happiness by thinking about what we are grateful for.

If all of the above results in a massive family hug- fest — all the better.

I am grateful for the opportunities to have interacted and learned from so many of you in 2017.


How to Avoid Un-Teachable Moments

Un-teachable Moments: those times when you wish your kid didn’t just see or hear that? Ever happen to you? 

How to Protect Kids from the Bad News: 

There is so much disaster, confusion and tragedy in the world right now. 

Exposure to a constant barrage of information about disasters and unstable political leaders flowing into our homes creates unintended consequences in terms of creating anxiety, uncertainty and stress. 

It’s all happening now, in real time, on our phones, on Alexa, in our cars – virtually anywhere. And it can be frightening for small children. 

Brain imprinting on developing brains:

What kind of imprint does all of this leave on children? 

All young children need to feel safe and secure, in order to grow their sense of well-being and their ability to courageously navigate their world. They do not yet have sufficient defenses to protect their innocent brains and imagination against a barrage of images and events. These horrific images create a primary imprint that becomes a future frame of reference for a young child. 

“I saw it and now I can’t un-see it,”

said a girl about a video she had inadvertently seen where somebody was shot and killed. 

Rresearch shows that chronic stress and fear is associated with significant brain changes, and possibly shows that toxic experiences actually re-form the architecture of developing brains. 
How do we protect the kids? It’s no longer 1960 when grown ups waited  until the kids are asleep for the grown ups to “catch up” on the news. 

It’s all around us. 

How to Protect and Convey Information to Young Kids: 

1. First, you can’t “un-teach” horrific images. Images become embedded in the young mind, with few defenses to protect it. Protect children from images that they aren’t equipped to handle. 

2. Limit discussing current events until YOU are emotionally regulated enough to share the information with your child at their level. 

Use my “SALT” method: 

S: SENSITIVE: be sensitive to the environment you want to create around your child. 

A: ATTUNED: become attuned to your child’s emotional state and your own emotional state when talking about issues

L: LOOK AND LISTEN: look at your child’s face carefully for reactions that they may not be able to express. Listen to their questions and reactions – answer their questions at their level. 

T:TRANSLATE: translate what you want to share in bite-size, kid-appropriate sound bites. News can be gruesome and scary.  They don’t need to know everything! 


REASSURE: reassure your child that they are safe and you will always take care of them. 

PROTECT: above all, Protect your child from images that they shouldn’t be seeing. Save your frustration and rants over with your friends instead of using your kid as an inadvertent sounding board. 

Hopefully, with added vigilance, there will be less moments that you wish you could “unteach” – 

With wishes for a calmer world in this new year! 


I’m Sorry!! 

I’m Sorry. 
Have you noticed? Girls apologize way more than boys. 

In my clinical neuropsychology practice, I see all types of children of all ages, shapes and gender blends. One thing that continues to stun me is the predominance of teenage girls who… apologize constantly. 

Beautiful girls. Smart girls. Talented girls. Girls from supportive families. Girls from educated homes. 
And yet. So many teenage girls enter my office and …. begin to apologize. 

“ACHOO! I’m sorry. ”

“Oh I drew that funny, I’m sorry. ”

“I’m so sorry, can you please repeat that again? ”

“I’m so sorry but do you think it’s ok if I go to the restroom?” 

What happened??? 

Both girls and boys who are little do not apologize for innocuous actions, they are learning to be comfortable in their bodies and learning to control their behaviors- we get it, and they know we get it. 

Knocked the water glass right off the desk? “Oops, ok let’s clean it up! ”

Need a wiggle or a stretch break? 

Sure, let’s do it! 

Not so for the teen age girl. Self conscious, fearful of making mistakes and practically holding their breath, teen age girls just might be the most insecure group on a this planet. 

What is going on? Hasn’t everyone seen Wonder Woman already? 

So in response, I’ve started a one woman doctor crusade to help teenage girls stop apologizing. 

I will usually say to them “do you think a boy your age would have apologized for (— fill in the blank- sneezing, drinking water, erasing math mistakes, drawing a picture that isn’t Picasso…..) ??? 
For some, they get it instantly and they straighten up and proceed a bit more confidently. 
For others it’s still hard. Do you want to know why? 
I suspect that for girls, the social expectations are just too high and overwhelming. Social media shows stunning models, their school expects straight As, and their friends…. well don’t get me started. 
One little girl I worked with was told on social media by a classmate “you f?! B€#¥, I hope you die” by a classmate. Talk about peer pressure?! 

What to do
Parents- please have The Conversation with your teen. The Conversation is about real expectations. Who we are as humans, flawed, imperfect but so wonderful all the same. 

Show them your stretch marks, show them the before and after photos of photoshopped models.

 Tell them to stand up straight. To march into a room and how to command attention. 

Here’s the message: 

All teen age girls are beautiful in their own imperfect skin. You are worthy and you’re good enough. Never apologize for not being enough. Ever. 

For more info, check out Dove’s self esteem campaign:

About Slow Processing Speed 

My son is in third grade and was tested this year. The testing confirmed that he’s a smart kid who has very slow processing speed. Can processing speed ever improve?

This is an informative post from Dr. Ellen Braaten, from 

Nearly every child will be faster at age 12 than at age 7—and faster yet at age 16. But processing speed is measured by comparing a child to his peers. And since nearly all kids get faster as they get older, a grade-schooler with slow processing speed will be faster in middle school. But he will likely still have slower processing speed than his peers.

For a small number of kids, their processing speed may “catch up” with their peers. This isn’t very likely, but it happens in some cases. As traits go, processing speed is a bit like height. A child who for many years is shorter than most of his peers isn’t likely to have a big growth spurt in his teens that catches him up with his peers. But some kids do have these kinds of growth spurts.

So what can parents do other than wait and let nature takes its course? Here are a few ways you can help your child increase processing speed:

Practice a specific skill. Practice can help improve your child’s speed at that skill. Research shows that repeating a task makes it become more automatic—and thus quicker to process.
This applies to everything from brushing your teeth to learning multiplication tables. The more you do a task, the faster you get at it.

Help your child be more efficient
. Look for strategies that can make your child become more efficient. You can do this with nearly any task.
For example, here’s a way to help your child cut down the time it takes to do a homework assignment. Help him make a list of what is required for the assignment and what isn’t required. Your child can then feel confident that he is spending time on the right goals. Keep the list of requirements handy so he can review it.

Work on planning and organization skills. Planning can be tough for some kids with slow processing speed, especially if they have no idea how long it takes them to do a certain task. Keeping a log of start and stop times can help with this. So can estimating how long a project will take and then tracking whether enough time was allotted.
Putting more emphasis on planning and organization can also help your child be more efficient at routine tasks. You can also help by keeping things consistent and predictable. Sticking to routines means there will be less new information for your child to process.

Talk to your child’s school. See if he qualifies for classroom accommodations for slow processing speed. Getting extra time to do things like take a test can help kids feel less stressed as they’re doing tasks.

Consider ADHD medication. If your child also has ADHD, you may want to look into ADHD medication. It may not improve his processing speed directly. But helping your child focus could make him more efficient at homework and other tasks. Talk with your child’s doctor if you want to explore this option.

Stay positive
. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re focusing on day-to-day tasks. But try to keep in mind that processing speed may become less of an issue when your child grows up.
That’s because we tend to choose jobs and hobbies that are well suited to us. For example, a child with slower processing speed may not gravitate toward being an ER doctor, but he might be a wonderful radiologist.

Ultimately, you want to maximize your child’s potential. And this involves keeping expectations realistic. You had your child evaluated, and that is a wonderful first step. Knowing what to expect will make it easier to know how to accommodate your child’s needs or advocate for him.

About the Author of this article: 

Ellen Braaten is the director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.