Helping children with learning disabilities Tip 3:
Think life success, rather than school success
Success means different things to different people, but your hopes and dreams for your child probably extend beyond good report cards. Maybe you hope that your child’s future includes a fulfilling job and satisfying relationships, for example, or a happy family and a sense of contentment.
The point is that success in life—rather than just school success—depends, not on academics, but on things like a healthy sense of self, the willingness to ask for and accept help, the determination to keep trying in spite of challenges, the ability to form healthy relationships with others, and other qualities that aren’t as easy to quantify as grades and SAT scores.
A 20-year study that followed children with learning disabilities into adulthood identified the following six “life success” attributes. By focusing on these broad skills, you can help give your child a huge leg up in life.
Learning disabilities and success #1: Self-awareness and self-confidence
For children with learning disabilities, self-awareness (knowledge about strengths, weaknesses, and special talents) and self-confidence are very important. Struggles in the classroom can cause children to doubt their abilities and question their strengths.
- Ask your child to list his or her strengths and weaknesses and talk about your own strengths and weaknesses with your child.
- Encourage your child to talk to adults with learning disabilities and to ask about their challenges, as well as their strengths.
- Work with your child on activities that are within his or her capabilities. This will help build feelings of success and competency.
- Help your child develop his or her strengths and passions. Feeling passionate and skilled in one area may inspire hard work in other areas too.
Learning disabilities and success #2: Being proactive
A proactive person is able to make decisions and take action to resolve problems or achieve goals. For people with learning disabilities, being proactive also involves self-advocacy (for example, asking for a seat at the front of the classroom) and the willingness to take responsibility for choices.
- Talk with your learning disabled child about problem solving and share how you approach problems in your life.
- Ask your child how he or she approaches problems. How do problems make him or her feel? How does he or she decide what action to take?
- If your child is hesitant to make choices and take action, try to provide some “safe” situations to test the water, like choosing what to make for dinner or thinking of a solution for a scheduling conflict.
- Discuss different problems, possible decisions, and outcomes with your child. Have your child pretend to be part of the situation and make his or her own decisions.
Learning disabilities and success #3: Perseverance
Perseverance is the drive to keep going despite challenges and failures, and the flexibility to change plans if things aren’t working. Children (or adults) with learning disabilities may need to work harder and longer because of their disability.
- Talk with your learning disabled child about times when he or she persevered—why did he or she keep going? Share stories about when you have faced challenges and not given up.
- Discuss what it means to keep going even when things aren’t easy. Talk about the rewards of hard work, as well as the opportunities missed by giving up.
- When your child has worked hard, but failed to achieve his or her goal, discuss different possibilities for moving forward.
Learning disabilities and success #4: The ability to set goals
The ability to set realistic and attainable goals is a vital skill for life success. It also involves the flexibility to adapt and adjust goals according to changing circumstances, limitations, or challenges.
- Help your child identify a few short- or long-term goals and write down steps and a timeline to achieve the goals. Check in periodically to talk about progress and make adjustments as needed.
- Talk about your own short- and long-term goals with your child, as well as what you do when you encounter obstacles.
- Celebrate with your child when he or she achieves a goal. If certain goals are proving too hard to achieve, talk about why and how plans or goals might be adjusted to make them possible.
Learning disabilities and success #5: Knowing how to ask for help
Strong support systems are key for people with learning disabilities. Successful people are able to ask for help when they need it and reach out to others for support.
- Help your child nurture and develop good relationships. Model what it means to be a good friend and relative so your child knows what it means to help and support others.
- Demonstrate to your child how to ask for help in family situations.
- Share examples of people needing help, how they got it, and why it was good to ask for help. Present your child with role-play scenarios that might require help.
Learning disabilities and success #6: The ability to handle stress
If children with learning disabilities learn how to regulate stress and calm themselves, they will be much better equipped to overcome challenges.
- Use words to identify feelings and help your child learn to recognize specific feelings.
- Ask your child what words they would use to describe stress. Does your child recognize when he or she is feeling stressed?
- Encourage your child to identify and participate in activities that help reduce stress like sports, games, music, or writing in a journal.
- Ask your child to describe activities and situations that make them feel stressed. Break down the scenarios and talk about how overwhelming feelings of stress and frustration might be avoided.
Recognizing stress in your child
It’s important to be aware of the different ways in which stress can manifest. Your child may behave very differently than you do when he or she is under stress. Some signs of stress are more obvious: agitation, trouble sleeping, and worries that won’t shut off. But some people—children included—shut down, space out, and withdraw when stressed. It’s easy to overlook these signs, so be on the lookout for any behavior that’s out of the ordinary.