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Roberta Goldberg: One of the things parents need to do, especially in the 2nd to 6th grade period, is take care of themselves. They've got to have respite. This is a good time to get some counseling for parents and children, to help them navigate this time, so that they can respond to their children's frustrations, struggle through a couple of hours of homework, yet still have the strength to get dinner on the table.
It's important to introduce "strengths and weaknesses" into the family vocabulary-the idea that everybody in this family has some things they're very good at and things they aren't so good at. So, the youngster who's got learning disabilities-who's got, say, serious weaknesses in reading comprehension-also has some strengths in soccer or piano playing or packing the car for the camping trip. With this approach, this child doesn't stick out as the only one in the family who doesn't do well.
Bruce Hirsch: Most importantly, parents can do something that I never do with clients and that is to hug and cuddle their kids. I think physical touch is extremely important for soothing anxiety. One of the first questions I talk about with parents is how their child accepts physical touch. We do have some kids who, for whatever reason, shy away from too much physical touch, but that's really a minority. I think as touch gets internalized, it feeds into self-soothing, which is such an important part of dealing with anxiety.
Roberta Goldberg: When kids with learning disabilities start middle school, I think we need to scaffold them. A lot of parents think, "They're in middle school; they ought to be able to take care of all this." Well, often they aren't taking care of all of this and they're failing. So I help parents to realize that, although they wish their youngster was an independent learner, they are not yet. And if we don't provide them with some of the scaffolding - like helping them plan and organize - we're deluding ourselves.
I am not opposed to parents typing for children, with the teacher's knowledge. But they have to type exactly what the child has written. It has to be thought of as an accommodation. This is a controversial opinion, but I think the parents' job at this stage is to do everything they can to help children develop the compensatory skills required to show what they know.
Parents should also keep a keen eye on a young adolescent's social interactions. One of the primary anxieties reported to us in our longitudinal study for middle school was social anxiety. And that is the fear that their learning disability will be discovered by their friends and that they will not be considered cool. Parents need to shift the balance more toward "private," clandestine remediation, and away from noticeable, or "public," remediation.
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