Students with learning disabilities face unique emotional challenges that when left unaddressed can lead to low self-esteem and mental health issues down the line. Young children with learning disabilities are especially vulnerable, as they don’t yet have the communication tools to understand what is going on, and might make false assumptions based on their experiences, perhaps incorrectly believing that they aren’t as smart as their peers because they have to work twice as hard to grasp concepts that appear to come easily to their friends and classmates.
These limiting beliefs can manifest in different ways, from anxiety to low motivation, and even physical symptoms like headaches and stomach aches. Students with learning disabilities might act out, becoming known as the class clown or getting sent to the principal’s office for acts of rebellion. Or they might seem to not care about their classes at all, believing it is easier to give up when faced with challenges that feel insurmountable.
As we know, not only are learning disabilities manageable, but early intervention sees the greatest results, as does fostering a healthy emotional environment and a strong sense of self-worth from a young age. Emotional well-being is the foundation from which all motivation, academic or otherwise, can arise. But how does one ensure that their child’s emotional needs are being met?
Here we outline key tips for parents wishing to provide emotional and social support for their children struggling with learning disabilities.
Teach them what a learning disability is.
Once diagnosed, it can be extremely confusing or stressful for a child to contend with the idea of a learning disability. Help them feel empowered by fully explaining what a learning disability is, being sure to use terms and analogies that they can understand. Make it clear that not only are learning disabilities treatable with the right interventions but that they have absolutely no bearing on a child’s intellectual capabilities.
Be aware of your emotions and what energy you’re giving off.
As a parent, it’s only natural to worry about your child once you receive a learning disability diagnosis. While there may be plenty you don’t understand and are concerned about, it’s important to not let your child see that you’re afraid for them. Seeing a parental figure be concerned for their wellbeing will only serve to shake their confidence, so it’s imperative that you radiate positivity when speaking to your child about their learning disability.
If you need to seek assistance of your own, consider seeing a therapist to discuss your anxieties surrounding your child’s wellbeing. This way, you’ll have your concerns accounted for and in check so that you can provide the appropriate support that your child needs.
Work with your child’s teacher.
If your child is struggling to succeed in school while dealing with a learning disability, one of the first steps should be reaching out to their teacher. Establish boundaries that will benefit your child’s education, such as asking the teacher not to randomly call on them, which can make children feel embarrassed when they don’t have the answer, shaking their academic confidence. Work together with the teacher to think of creative ways to draw them in, instead of making them feel that they are struggling alone.
Give effusive praise.
It cannot be overstated how important positive reinforcement is to building good academic habits. Praising your child for each milestone or good behavior, no matter how small, lights up the reward center of their brain, encouraging them to continue building healthy habits. It doesn’t always have to be a huge display–even a few small words of encouragement will go a long way to keeping them on track to succeed.
Pick the right academic environment.
Not every academic environment is created equal. As you learn more about what works and what doesn’t for your child, you might find that they would perform better in a different academic environment, whether that means switching schools, switching classes, enlisting the help of a special education teacher, holding them back a year, hiring a tutor, or any number of other changes.
While finances might get in the way of switching from public to private education, you can look into scholarship programs or seek out information on charter schools in your area. While decisions surrounding a child’s schooling are highly personal and depend on many factors, it’s important to keep in mind that if your child is struggling there are always more options at your disposal.
Break learning tasks into small steps.
It’s imperative that you set up your child for success. Resist the temptation to set the bar high when making goals, at least initially, as you want your child to become familiar with the feeling of satisfaction that comes with completing a task. For example, if they are assigned to read several chapters of a book, have them read a chapter and then take a quick break in which they can watch a funny video or play outside before starting the next one. Separating each task into bite-sized chunks allows your child to feel like they are making great progress. That feeling will carry over into their academic confidence, instilling in them the belief that they are capable of succeeding in school.
Empower them to find what they’re good at
Every child has something they are talented at, even if it’s not an academic pursuit. Whether your child is a brilliant mathematician or the highest scorer on the soccer team, building confidence in one area carries over to all aspects of life. Children that are passionate about something, whether or not it directly helps them in school, are able to build higher self-esteem, which bleeds over into how they feel about their studies.
Speaking strictly in the academic realm, they are bound to have strengths and weaknesses. The earlier you determine what they are good at and what they enjoy, versus what they struggle with and loathe, the earlier you’re able to come up with a plan and solidify habits that will help them succeed in every subject.