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By Robbie Fanning, M.A.
All of us thrive when we feel we're acting of our own volition. Children with learning and attention difficulties are no different. For example, when we offer them a choice between two acceptable alternatives, such as doing either their math or social studies homework first, they feel a sense of control over their own world. This leads to greater pride and self-motivation.
Dr. Mel Levine, author of the set of tapes called Developing Minds, says, "Help children develop a sense of control by presenting things they do not want to do as choices. For example, let a child decide whether to do homework before or after dinner. At school, consider letting a child who dislikes chorus participate in the spring performance by selling tickets."
Dr. Stipek reports on experiments that reveal a child's beliefs about intelligence affect his motivation to succeed. If he believes intelligence is fixed at birth and he missed out, he is liable to quit without trying. If, on the other hand, you help him to understand that persistence is more important than the luck of the draw, you promote a child who can learn to succeed on his own terms. This is the struggling child who changes from saying, "What's the use?" to "I've learned how to slow down and double-check my work."
Dr. Stipek says, "Emphasize notions of flexible intelligence. Tell your child, in every way you can, that brainpower is something you acquire. Make the following sayings (or their age-appropriate equivalents) your family mantras:
Every child needs to feel that his parents are on his side. You can demonstrate your love and respect for your child with learning problems by accepting, connecting, and supporting, no matter what. You still love him, even when he forgets his assignment. You're interested in the details of each day. And when he's upset, you help him to give words to feelings.
Respect your child by helping him understand not only his specific learning difficulties, but strategies for coping in school. For example, if your child cannot hold multiplication facts in long-term memory, he may not do well on a standardized math test. He needs both a strategy to practice his math skills and a strategy to take the test. He may need different ways to drill multiplication, such as tactile manipulation of objects, drawing pictures, or saying the tables out loud. He may also need more time on the test.
Our culture reveres inborn talent and luck. Unfortunately, that can leave out the child who struggles in school. He begins to believe that no matter how hard he works, school success is outside of his control.
If you help him identify small, concrete steps to reach his learning goals, you can recognize each accomplishment along the way, nor matter how big or small. Then the effort of learning is valued as much as the outcome in school. Help your child learn to set attainable learning goals, such as studying a math concept from a variety of angles until he understands it. This might mean that you must be content with something like a C grade in Math - but an A+ in Effort.
It will be important to communicate regularly with your child's teacher so all of you (parents, teacher, and child) can work as a united team. With the teacher's help and ideas, your child's learning goals will be supported both at school and at home.
You also want your child to learn that making mistakes is a natural part of the process of learning. Thomas Edison, said to have tried 10,000 times to perfect the light bulb, said, "I didn't fail. I just discovered another way not to invent the electric light bulb."
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