By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
One of the most challenging things parents can deal with is their child struggling with school. Perhaps it is due to their executive functioning challenges, another mental or physical health diagnosis, or a learning disability. It could even just be that they do not have a particular aptitude for a subject, such as math or reading. Something I notice often in my work with children and teens is that parents are not always equipped to support their child who is struggling in this way.
It truly can be complicated as we want to empower our children to believe they can overcome challenges, but we also need to recognize that the challenges do exist in a very real way. Unfortunately, our academic systems are inherently ableist, and instead of our children knowing that they are doing the best they can in a system that is not designed for their needs, they believe they are “stupid, dumb, not good enough, etc.” As parents, it is crucial that we find a way to talk with them candidly about these experiences so that they can develop a healthier internal narrative.
Here are nine tips to help you do just that:
1. Identify, Address, and Understand Learning Gaps
To help your child, you will need to know what they are experiencing and struggling with if you do not already know. This means seeking professional support and possibly even an evaluation outside the school system to have a more thorough diagnosis. Once you know their challenges, seek further professional support, whether privately or through their school district. Even more, do your research to help yourself understand what their diagnosis means for them and what it means for you in terms of how you might need to support them.
2. Encourage a Growth Mindset:
A growth mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work rather than innate ability. It is the idea of something not happening “yet” instead of “not ever possible.” For example, if your child struggles with reading, it is the ability to view that situation as temporary and something to work on. A skill that has not been developed yet, rather than that the child is “not capable of reading.” When their learning experiences are challenging, help your child persevere by emphasizing that mistakes are a crucial part of learning and not indicative of a problem with them or their capability.
3. Shift their narrative
As a parent, if you get the sense that your child believes they are inherently unable to do something, work to help them shift their narrative to something more productive. For example, sharing with them that, at times, they are being compared to older peers or that their brain is just not ready to learn whatever they are learning. As adults, we can give them the perspective that things are hard to understand sometimes, and that does not have to mean anything negative about them.
4. Celebrate Small Victories
For kids that struggle more than the average child, it can be extremely helpful for their parents to help them acknowledge and celebrate their victories, no matter how small.
5. Break Tasks into Manageable Steps
For kids who struggle with learning disorders or executive functioning issues, it is essential to help them learn how to break tasks down so that they are less overwhelming. Schools often help with this, but it is important to help them at home too. Even with something as simple as cleaning up their room - help them identify one part or category of item to clean up first to help it feel less challenging.
6. Incorporate Learning through Play
As I probably mention too often, play is how our children learn. No matter their strengths and weaknesses, play can be key to helping a child learn something they are struggling with academically. You could engage your child in educational games, activities, puzzles, etc. The goal is to make learning more enjoyable so they feel less negatively about school and educational activities.
7. Create a Quiet Study Environment
Most children need a space without distractions and noise to study and complete their homework. This space is even more important for children who struggle academically. Make sure the area where they study is consistently available to them and that they have a consistent routine to complete academic tasks.
8. Encourage Your Child to Ask for Help
Teach your child that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Encourage them to ask questions in class, seek clarification from teachers, or request assistance from peers. While it can be hard for a child who is struggling and may feel like asking for help just shows everyone else how much they struggle, it can be a huge source of support. Knowing when and how to seek help is an important skill that fosters academic growth and self-assurance.
9. Offer Unconditional Support
Above all, let your child know that you love and support them unconditionally, regardless of their academic performance. Remind them that their value extends far beyond their grades and that you are proud of their efforts and progress. You can enhance this by ensuring you ask them about more than the areas they are struggling in. Connect about their interests and passions and have no more than weekly conversations about potential challenges academically and how they are navigating them. A loving and understanding support system can work wonders in boosting a struggling student's confidence.
In sum, boosting academic confidence in kids who struggle academically requires patience, understanding, and a positive approach. It can also require parents to work on shifting their ideas around school, success, and capability. The more I have worked with individual clients who have academic struggles, the more I have realized that our educational systems are inherently flawed and ableist in nature. If we can share this with our children, they can begin to see potential issues they are having as a product of their learning style with their environment rather than their internal flaws (like being “stupid” or “lazy”). If we can avoid our children internalizing their challenges, they are much more likely to find their path to success!
If you are interested in learning more about connecting with your child please make sure to sign up for our newsletter! Dr. Wollerman will be launching a parenting course all about this topic later this summer or early fall! You do not want to miss it!
At Thrive, we take a positive, client-centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy we offer in person and telehealth via video sessions, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
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