Talking with your teenager about learning difficulties
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By Brian Inglesby, M.A., L.E.P.
Take age and maturity into account
Parents of sixth- through eighth-grade kids often feel the need for a well-stocked "bag of tricks" to overcome the sometimes defensive attitude of adolescents. By this age, kids should be participating actively with their parents and teachers in personal goal-setting discussions, such as thinking about things they excel in or careers they might enjoy. Students this age often participate in a portion of the parent-teacher conference. Provide your child honest feedback about her performance in school and together try to identify natural affinities that she could later cultivate into powerful assets.
By seventh or eighth grade, kids should be introduced to the concept "self-advocate" or the role of "manager" of their own educational needs. Teach your child to speak up for herself, as this practice will be essential as she gets older. Rehearse how to talk to teachers and others about her specific learning needs. She'll want to use this skill as she gets older and will need to use it in high school, post-secondary education or training, and employment.
Kids in middle school want desperately to conform in order to fit in with their peers. For this reason, your middle school-age child may strongly prefer to be enrolled exclusively in general education classes. Even though she's probably more similar to other kids than she is different from them, her learning struggles may cause her to feel not only different, but inferior. So, rather than emphasizing her problems and needs for special help, keep her focused on specific learning goals, the steps you've outlined to reach them, her progress to date, and the support you and her teachers can provide her.
Middle school kids want some degree of influence and control over many aspects of school. Your seventh grader may set a goal to participate in all general education classes by high school, that is, to discontinue special education classes or tutoring. You and her teachers should help her evaluate this proposal realistically. If you support the idea, let her know what the steps are and how you'll work with her to reach her goal. You may also need to model an adaptable and flexible outlook for your child, to think out loud with her about adjusting her goals to better suit her capabilities. In this and other ways, you continue to offer a "safety net" of support that she can rely on as necessary.