The key is collaboration. Academic and social skills do not develop in a vacuum. They are the result of interactions between the child and his/her environment. Your child’s capacity to complete tasks independently occurs when skills have been mastered and external supports are no longer required. For example, complex academic assignments may overwhelm your child’s brain. She needs you to look at the task with her and collaboratively develop a plan for how the assignment or project will be executed. This means breaking the task down into steps, then creating timelines for each step to be accomplished. You might also have to work with your child to actually complete the steps. The idea here is not to do the work for your child but to do it with her. This collaboration will enhance his learning, while also helping her develop the organizational and planning skills necessary to eventually mange the work on her own.
As backed by numerous research studies, your ability to effectively model the following skills for your child will help you strengthen your relationship with him or her:
- Manage your difficult emotions. Your ability to identify and reflect on your feelings without acting on them immediately is critical to healthy relationships. When you react impulsively to your negative emotions, you increase the likelihood of saying something to your child that you might later regret. You are also more likely to be punitive, which also ruptures your connection to your child. I’m not suggesting that you absolve your child of responsibility, but I am suggesting that you hold him or her accountable in a thoughtful way.
- Appropriately express your emotions. Your capacity to experience, reflect, accurately label and effectively communicate emotions helps your child develop the same capacity. In fact, I think it is accurate to say that one’s ability to process and communicate feelings is fundamental to any healthy relationship.
- Listen carefully to your child. Take the time to listen to your child’s feelings and understand his experiences. It is important that you not impose your interpretation of his experience. Try to understand experiences from his perspective. The more time you take to listen to his feelings and help him label these feelings, the better he will become at managing difficult emotions over time.
- Problem-solve with your child. When challenging situations arise, it is helpful if you can problem solve with your child about how to address whatever the situation might be. This is how your child develops better problem solving skills. It is particularly helpful when you can anticipate difficult situations and trouble shoot with your child in advance.
- Maintain perspective on your child’s development. Brain development and emotional maturity is a process that takes time. While we cannot force the brain to develop any faster than nature will allow, we can remove impediments to brain development and emotional maturation. For example, if your child has poor impulse control, you will not find a punishment that makes him less impulsive. You can, however, identify situations where he is more vulnerable to more impulsive behavior and together come up with strategies for maintaining self control in those situations. In addition, if he does behave impulsively, you can discuss his behavior with him and have him take responsibility for his actions. Keep in mind that the brain’s breaking system responsible for filtering what is said and done will not fully develop until he is between 25 and 30 years of age.
- Adjust your expectations of your child and yourself. It is important that you understand your child’s strengths and challenges when setting appropriate expectations. Avoid using, age, grade or comparisons with sibling or peers when deciding on what your child should be able to do. Every child is unique with his own rate of development. There is no formula for setting and maintaining expectations other than listening to your child and trial and error.
“Helping Your Child with Language-Based Learning Disabilities” by Daniel Franklin, Ph.D. My good friend and colleague, Dr. Daniel Franklin has just come out with a new book for parents on how best to help their children with challenges like Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, ADHD and processing disorders. Dr. Franklin, who has been in education for over 30 years, is founder of Franklin Educational Services, which provides individualized school support services for students of all ages and needs. Franklin helps parents discover how a secure relationship between them and their child can optimize the child’s learning ability by enhancing motivation, reducing anxiety, and increasing flexibility. The book also contains practical strategies for navigating school and home life. I highly recommend it. For more information go to https://www.franklined.com/
Summer vacation is the prefect time for you to reconnect with your children. The time spent together deepens the relationship and helps your child develop self regulation skills. This does not have to be a big production planning-wise. Think “simple” by grabbing pockets of time here and there for mutually enjoyable activities. Take a walk with the dog. Ride bikes. Play a board game. Bake something. Work it around your daily routine. A little goes a long way.
Thank you to the International Dyslexia Association for putting on such an informative, well run conference this past Saturday, May 2nd, at UCLA. Language and Learning 2015 enlisted a wonderful set of speakers this year, including author/consultant/dyslexia specialist Louisa Moats, Ed. D.; pediatric neurophsychologist Rita Eichenstein, Ph.D.; and Lev Gottlieb, Ph.D., UCLA pediatric neuropsychologist. I am looking forward to next year’s conference!
Breakout Session with Dr. Peter Murphy and Dr. Daniel Franklin at the Language and Learning Conference, May 2, 2015 – UCLA Carnesale Commons
Drawing on the latest findings from the fields of social neuroscience, psychology, and education, this presentation will explore the biological mechanisms of stress and identify how stress impacts learning and behavior. In addition, the connection between healthy attachment and stress will be discussed. This presentation will offer specific strategies that parents, teachers, and clinicians can use to mitigate stress-related learning and behavioral challenges.
Conference registration online at www.DyslexiaLA.org/events
- Most children with learning differences are affected by multiple challenges.
- Learning challenges often surface when there is a mismatch between the child’s abilities and the demands of the environment. For example, an academic curriculum may be accelerated beyond the developmental level of the child (or many of the children) in a particular classroom.
- People with verbal learning disabilities have difficulty with words, both spoken and written
- People with non-verbal learning disabilities may have difficulty processing abstract concepts, abstract reasoning and conceptualizing concepts.
- A visual processing or perceptual disorder refers to a hindered ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes.
- An auditory processing disorder interferes with a person’s ability to make sense of information taken in through the ears.
(To be continued)
Parents cope with a wide range of difficult feelings about their child’s learning challenges. Will my son or daughter be accepted to a good middle school, high school or college? Will he be able to create a life for himself? Will she ever be able to make and keep friends? All these questions weigh heavily on your mind and increase stress. While you may love your child and want the bet for him or her, your feelings of disappointment, confusion, helplessness, shame and anger may not seem very loving. You might find yourself trying to deny that you have these feelings, or you may take them as a sign that you are failing as a parent. The difficulty with this guilty mindset is that it only intensifies already painful feelings. Here’s my message to you: When parenting any child, a range of feelings, both positive and negative, is natural and human. It may be counterintuitive, but this self acceptance is crucial to processing your emotions and maintaining the composure to be present for your child. From this place, you’ll be better able to implement effective parenting strategies. Being comfortable with a wide range of feelings also helps you develop a greater capacity to understand and accept the range of emotions and experiences your child will have.
Of course, if you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed or your anger is out of control, seek the help and support of a professional.
The patterns of relating that children demonstrate with important adults in their lives, as well as their peers, are dependent on early relational experiences with parents or caretakers. If a child has had his or her needs met most of the time, they come to trust that others will also respond to them consistently.
As a parent, you do not have to be perfectly responsive for your child to develop a sense of trust in the world. In fact, it may come as a relief that if you were perfectly responsive to her needs, you would actually hinder her emotional growth!
Misunderstandings, disappointments and other types of ruptures are inevitable in all relationships. When misunderstandings do occur with your child, they become an opportunity for you to help your child process and resolve the experience. These ruptures and repairs actually facilitate emotional growth. Saying “I’m sorry” to your child now and then goes a long way.
I have yet to meet a child who does not want to succeed. We all possess a natural drive for mastery over appropriate developmental tasks. There is a robust pleasure for learning built into our brains. We are driven to create connections between neurons and to master skills under the right conditions. This concept is well supported by neuroscience research. It is up to us as parents and other adults working with children to engage our curiosity about why a child sometimes has trouble in school or with friends and at other times seems to function so smoothly.
All adults working with children have a responsibility to communicate confidence in a child’s capacity to learn. We also have to let children know that we are committed to helping them master whatever challenges stand in their way. This approach will help these children develop resiliency and self esteem. With encouragement and support, a child will learn to tolerate feelings or frustration and discouragement that sometimes come with the learning process.
When we observe our children struggling, we sometimes make assumptions about their motives in the form of character labels. “Lazy,” “manipulative,” “self-centered,” “oppositional,” and “disrespectful” are a few of the common labels used to interpret poor performance. When bright kids struggle it may seem to be the only way to make sense of their difficulties. Learning differences can be confusing to observers because they are invisible, unlike physical disabilities.
A typical question I hear from parents is “Why can he play video games for hours but not focus on his homework?” The truth is, video games activate the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain that enhances focus. Most homework assignments don’t provide the same kind of stimulation for the brain. It can be very stressful for an intelligent child to engage in a tedious academic task in the classroom or at home.
When we reduce our child’s struggles to character flaws, we are not considering the demands placed on her in different settings and whether or not she has developed the capacities and skills to meet those expectations. Also, our understanding as to why she struggles is going to influence the way she understands her own difficulties. For example, I often ask children with learning differences whey they think they are having problems in school or with homework. It is not uncommon for them to respond, “It’s because I am lazy.” Such a response tells me that adults in these children’s lives have fostered this belief in them. If we are curoius about our child and willing to broaden our understanding of her struggles, we will help her develop a broader understanding of her strengths and challenges. This mindset allows both parent and child to work together to consider many more potential solutions to the problem at hand.
Finally, character labels limit our capacity to help. What are we left to do if we determine that our child is lazy? This mindset increases the likelihood that we will become more frustrated and possibly punitive about getting your expectations met. In response, our child may become frustrated, angry and therefore resistant to doing what is asked. A narrow perspective on our part sets up a negative dynamic with our child.
(Peter Murphy, Ph.D. To Be Continued)