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Learning Disabilities

Communicating with Your Child

dad at schoolFrustration is common among children with learning and attention problems. Some children give up and see themselves as failures. Others may exhibit behavior problems that stem from their sometimes unrewarded efforts to learn.

Dr. Mel Levine, a leading expert, advocates a process called “demystification.” This technique helps children understand their learning difficulties and recognize that, like everyone else, they have strengths as well as weaknesses. The following suggestions may provide guidance to parents and teachers trying to help children understand and cope with their learning difficulties:

  • Be Empathetic.
  • As empathy can reduce the frustration and anxiety children often feel about their learning difficulties, it is important to emphasize that you know they must often work harder than others to do well in school. Provide reassurance that you will help them find strategies that will make school more rewarding.

  • Discuss strengths and interests.
  • Help children identify their strengths by using concrete examples and avoiding false praise. To a child who describes a movie or book in an interesting way, you might say, “I like the way you remember details and can describe the humorous and most interesting parts of the story.”

  • Discuss areas of weakness.
  • Use plain language to explain what aspects of learning seem to be most difficult for the child. For example, you might say, “You may have difficulty understanding what you read because your attention drifts during reading, which causes you to miss details and lose your place. We can work on that.”

  • Emphasize optimism.
  • Point out to children the future possibilities for success given their current strengths and help them realize that they can succeed by working on their weaknesses and improving on their strengths. Help children build a sense of control over their learning by encouraging them to be accountable for their own progress.

  • Set realistic goals.
  • Help children establish both short- and long-term goals. While it is great for children to be enthusiastic about what they want to do, it is also important to help them to think realistically about reaching their goals and to realize that success does not depend on achieving all objectives in-full.

  • Identify an ally.
  • Help children locate a mentor —a favorite teacher, tutor, adolescent, or neighbor— who is available to work with and support them. Explain to children that they can help themselves by sharing with others how they learn best.

  • Protect children from humiliation.
  • Help children strengthen self-esteem and maintain pride by avoiding criticizing them in public and by protecting them from embarrassment or humiliation in front of siblings and classmates.

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