Parents of children with learning differences know that their kids need an adult champion—someone to support them when they are discouraged, research the best teaching methods for their learning style, and help them navigate the school system.
It is estimated that there are approximately between 10-20% of students with learning differences, either a learning disorder, attention disorder, autism spectrum or a mood disorder. Standing behind each of these students is a loving and concerned parent who is trying hard to make the right choices. Right?
Nurtured kids become successful adults
Children with learning differences can and do grow up to become successful, productive adults. The primary challenge for parents is to keep their child’s self esteem strong while maintaining a realistic assessment of his or her strengths and struggles.
A child with dyslexia may have difficulty reading but may be unusually creative—she may be a dancer, an artist, a filmmaker, or a storyteller. A boy with ADHD may be hyperactive and impatient with classroom rules, but he could grow up to be highly successful on his own terms, like so many well-known innovators, celebrities, and athletes.
The potential is there—how do parents foster it during the school years?
After working with atypical children and their parents for more than two decades, I have seen that the parent’s attitude has a tremendous impact on how their child experiences school.
Six parental attitude adjustments that can make all the difference in your child’s life
1. Be aware of your own emotional process.
Parents of special needs kids have legitimate emotional struggles. If you are going to be an effective advocate for your child, you must understand your own emotional journey through feelings such as denial, anger, depression, and isolation, until you reach optimism, positive nurturing, and acceptance of your son or daughter.
A therapist who specializes in parents of atypical children or a support group that focuses on the needs of such parents (as opposed to focusing on the kids) may help you adjust to the inevitable ups, downs, and frustrations that come with your role. It’s normal to feel these emotions—you just need to be aware of them so that they don’t control you.
2. Remember to cheer!
Maintain a positive attitude toward your child, realizing that success is measured in small steps. Be on the lookout for little triumphs that may seem modest to you but are a big event to your child.
3. Deal with your disappointments on your own time.
Your child needs a positive, encouraging guide through childhood and the teenage years. If you are feeling disappointed, embarrassed, or frustrated, try not to display these emotions to your child or become angry at him.
Parents need support from a group, an individual therapist, or just a close friend with whom they can openly vent. I also strongly urge my clients to develop self-care routines. These could involve yoga, exercise or dance classes, or meditation such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
Don’t isolate yourself. You are not alone! At the very least, join a support group. You may be surprised at how much it helps.
4. Be there.
What your child needs most is your presence, so try to give her quality time every day. Children with learning disabilities particularly need support in the hour or so after school and during homework.
It’s best if all of the homework duty does not fall on one person, so try setting up a schedule with your partner. An older sibling or another relative might be able to step in one day a week.
Apart from homework time, you can boost your child’s mood and self-confidence by devoting a few minutes each day exclusively to chatting, laughing, and listening to her take on the world.
5. It’s not fair to compare.
Never compare your child to another child. It isn’t fair or motivating, it is painful and disheartening. We all have differences. Embrace your unique child and nurture his talents! Most of all, enjoy him for who he is.
6. Trust your instincts.
Parents have a sixth sense about their children, and you should honor yours. When parents confess a worry to a pediatrician or a teacher, the common response is, “Give your child more time.”
Regardless of what they say, if you feel that something is amiss, get your child evaluated. Early assessment and intervention can be critical factors in helping special needs children.
7. Do your homework.
In addition to fine-tuning your own emotional report card, you will need to maintain and update your child’s paperwork: make sure your child’s IEP is up to date, find out if his or her needs are being adequately met by your school’s interventions, schedule parent-teacher meetings when you sense there is cause.
The summer is time to get some remediation boot-camp in weaker areas of need.
Together, you and your child can be a unified force for success in school and beyond.
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