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Talking with Your Elementary School Child about Learning Difficulties

Though it isn't always easy, it's essential that you have frank conversations with your child about his learning challenges.

By Brian Inglesby, M.A., L.E.P.

Talking with your child about a sensitive topic like a learning disability (LD) is not easy. But it may be one of the most important things you can do to foster his learning and emotional development. When kids experience learning problems without understanding what's wrong, they're apt to imagine the worst.

Listen for Early Signs of Problems

If you notice a change in attitude when your child talks about school, don't ignore the signs. Since you know him better than anyone else, be sensitive to the clues he's giving you. Frustration may sound like, "I hate school"..."Nobody likes me"..."I can't draw"..."Other kids make fun of how I talk." An older child might say, "School is so stupid; why do we even have to go?" or "See, Mom, I'm retarded...the teacher moved me to the dummy group in math."

"Some children, especially those with receptive and expressive language problems, may not understand the nature of their problems or don't know how to ask questions or engage in a dialogue." - Dr. Bob Brooks

Many kids aren't able to express their feelings with words, but they let you know that things aren't going well in other ways. They tear up their schoolwork, refuse to talk about their day, or overreact with outbursts of temper. They tell you that they don't have any homework or forget to turn it in the next day. They don't want to go to school and complain of illness so that they can stay home. They say that they have no friends.

How should you respond to such behaviors? Ask yourself if your child has been acting this way for several weeks. Is there another explanation, such as a new baby in the house, an illness in the family, a change to a new school? What does his teacher say about his behavior or performance in school?

Gather Some Facts

Getting a clear and complete understanding of the nature of your child's learning struggles is a first step. Talk with his teachers to find out the ways that his learning problems affect his educational progress in reading, writing, and math. You may also want to ask the teacher about his social and emotional development, since learning struggles often have an impact beyond academics.

Sort through Your Feelings

When your child struggles at school, it's completely normal to feel worried, frustrated, and even disappointed. However, kids quickly pick up on a parent's negative feelings about their school performance. So it's important to find an appropriate outlet for your feelings- with sympathetic family members, friends, or a professional therapist - to help you move toward acceptance of your child' s learning problems. It might also be helpful to join a support group of parents of children with LD, either in your community or online. With adult support, your interactions with your child are likely to be more positive and optimistic.

Brian Inglesby, M.A., is a licensed educational psychologist who enjoys the challenges of working with students with a broad spectrum of learning issues. Of special interest to him is the opportunity to provide teachers, parents, and students with the ability to better understand and manage a student's unique learning profile.

Comments from readers

"My experience with the public schools in Belmont, CA outside lSan Francisco, CA have been a nightmare. They do nothing to help these chlldren with learning differences. Transfer your child to a private school and file for reimbursement. My advice get a lawyer!!! "