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Talking To Kids About LD

While parents are able to find information and resources about learning disabilities more easily than ever, they still ask, “How do I talk to my child about their learning disability? How do I keep his self-esteem and motivation strong?” Here are some ideas to guide you at different developmental stages. 

Grades 1-3

When communicating about learning issues with your first, second, or third grader, let him know that you and his teacher are working together to help him do well in school. Have him participate in informal meetings with the teacher and use “kid talk” to increase his understanding of how he learns and what he can do to improve his skills. If he’s involved in the discussion and has expressed a commitment to improving, he’s far more likely to stick with the plan.

By age 7 or 8, most kids can identify what they do well and what they have trouble with. Talk to your child about the things he’s good at and be specific about the things that are hard for him. Show him examples of his work that illustrate both. Ask him if he can think of ways that might make certain subjects easier — ways to learn skills he struggles with.

If he’s been assessed, either in school or privately, ask the professionals to review the results with you and your child. By legal definition, kids with LD have average to above average intelligence, so they’re smart enough to learn. They just need extra help to learn certain skills.

Grades 4-5

By fourth or fifth grade, kids should have a good sense of their academic strengths and weaknesses. Reinforce positive aspects of learning. If he’s identified himself as a “slow” or “poor” student, be clear about his weaknesses and why he’s struggling in school. Respect his difficulties but provide factual information about things he does well to develop resiliency and improve motivation.

Savvy 9- and 10-year-olds are experts at the “yeah, but…” which can undermine their own success. “Yeah, but I got an ‘F’ on this spelling test, so I’m never gonna go to fifth grade.” If you hear something like that, refocus him on the smaller picture — “Seems like you had a really hard time with that spelling test. Let’s see how we can make next week’s test better.” It’s essential to follow through with any promises of help.

Grades 6-8

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 middle schoolers. By this age, kids should be actively participating with their parents and teachers in personal goal setting and giving honest feedback about their own performance in school.

Depending on the specific needs of a child in special education, he may decide he wants to take all general education classes by eighth grade. Parents and teachers should help him evaluate this proposal. If you support the idea, let him know how you’ll work with him to reach his goal.

Eighth grade is the transition year to high school and is critical for future success. By eighth grade, kids should be taking on the role of “manager” of their own LD educational needs. Teach your child to advocate for himself. Practice how to talk to teachers and others about his specific learning needs. Help him understand he can influence how others treat him when he talks about his educational strengths and needs in a respectful and knowledgeable manner.

The End Result

The ultimate goal for your child is to understand and appreciate that his own LD adds another dimension to his personality and unique view of the world. When parents and teachers provide information in a factual and caring manner to a child with LD, there’s a greater likelihood that he’ll learn self-respect and appreciate the diversity of his talents, both educational and recreational.