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Steering Your Child’s Behavior in a Positive Direction

Children With Learning Disabilities -  Behavioral Problems In ChildrenAs you’ve looked for explanations for your child’s puzzling behavior, you may have unintentionally laid blame where it should not rest. You may have caught yourself saying, “Try harder” or “You’re being lazy” or thinking thoughts like this. But if your child is struggling with a learning disability (LD), she’s climbing a steeper and rockier slope than most and may be doing her very best to cope.

What Can You Do to Help Your Child?

Taking steps to see if your child has a learning disability and ensuring the necessary support both at home and at school will go a long way toward helping your child academically. And it can create the conditions for more desirable behaviors. You should also know that researchers have begun to learn which factors predict success in individuals with learning disabilities.

“Of course, success depends in part on the student and situation,” says Tobey Shaw, MA, principal of the Frostig School in Pasadena, California, a K–12 school for kids with learning disabilities. But based on more than 20 years of research at the Frostig Center, researchers have found that certain factors may have an even greater impact on success than those such as academic achievement, socio-economic status and IQ. Here's what they found predicted more competent, content and independent adults:

  • Self-awareness: a recognition of not only strengths but also limitations
  • Proactivity: such as asking for help on a tough science project
  • Perseverance: the ability to stick with an assignment, despite setbacks
  • Goal setting: such as making life plans that are concrete and realistic
  • Presence and use of effective support systems: actively seeking help, as needed, but becoming more independent over time
  • Emotional coping strategies: being aware of stress triggers such as speaking in front of the class and knowing strategies that work best to address stressors like these.

As a parent, you can help shape these attributes and the behaviors that accompany them. “Try things, and know that it’s not ‘one size fits all,’” says Shaw. Here are some tips to try. They may help steer your child in a more positive direction.

Talking With Your Child About LD

If your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability or behavioral challenge, talking about it openly within the family can make a big difference, says Steven E. Curtis, PhD, a school and child clinical psychologist and former special education director at Seattle University.

“When there’s a behavioral challenge, we tend to go to hardcore discipline rather than trying to understand the problem,” says Curtis. “We say, ‘Kids are out of control in our culture…in the old days, this wouldn’t have been allowed.’” That’s true, he says, but in the old days, kids were also kicked out of school and onto the street. Then you simply didn’t see the “bad behavior.”

Changing the "channel" from “lazy” or “bad” to “challenged” is not only more humane, but more effective, says Curtis. Here are some ways to start the discussion.

    • Not dumb, just different. Thomas McIntyre, PhD, is a professor of special education at Hunter College of City University of New York. He says that we need to help kids see themselves in a different light.

      If your child calls himself stupid, help him reframe this so he thinks, “My brain is wired a little differently, so I learn differently, too. Some things come hard to me. It may mean I need to learn some new strategies. And I might have to show my knowledge in a different way. But it doesn’t mean I’m dumb–I just learn differently.”


    • Many kinds of intelligence. There are many kinds of intelligence such as musical, spatial and interpersonal. As kids move into adolescence, this might be a good time to help them develop a more sophisticated way of looking at smarts, says Curtis. Pointing out strengths and challenges, not only in your child but also in peers and yourself can help overcome black-and-white thinking about intellectual prowess. Then, you can make it clear that just because something’s tough today doesn’t mean it will be forever. After all, you might add, your own math scores were low in grade school, but got much better over time.


  • You’re not alone. Curtis helps normalize LD by telling students that many successful and even famous people have struggled with learning. Then he reminds them of the silver lining: “Sometimes when you have a challenge, you learn to be a harder and more effective worker than others. It can become a blessing in disguise.”

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