You just discovered that your child learns differently. You will need to learn some new skills as you help your child succeed in a school system that’s not made for their brains, and you’ll learn entire new ways to be effective in helping your child. It’s important to realize that part of the LD-school journey is yours, and that it’s separate from your child’s journey. You’re doing a wonderful thing here, so don’t forget it. Here are some parenting self-care tips that can help.
1. Don’t Panic
In general, there’s a lot of information floating around that could cause any parent to panic. But if your child is having trouble learning, take a minute to breathe.
School and child-raising are both full of false pressures. Take a hard look at pressures, for both you and your child. Most of them don’t matter as much as you might think.
Your grades in second grade have nothing to do with your eventual success in middle school, high school, college, or life.
Almost every adult who has a learning difference says that the early school years were the most difficult for them. Early grammar school is hard for children with LDs. It takes time to mature a brain and grow skills. And if LD children aren’t taught correctly, they don’t magically “get it.”
However: Subjects in grammar school are re-taught multiple times. With proper support, your child can step off of the pressurized homework merry-go-round for a while so that they can take time to learn the skills and building blocks for success. We’ll be counseling you to learn what your child needs and then push back for time, training, and protection.
Don’t let school system problems make you crazy. Your child has more time to mature and learn than it might seem. Furthermore, guess what? Colleges accept students with learning disabilities, and they do just fine.
2. Take Care of Yourself
Flight attendants teach you to put your oxygen mask on before trying to help your children. But if your child is having issues, the last thing that gets mentioned is support for the parent. Parents of children with LDs often report stress and parental distress, and a parent’s stress can affect children. Parenting self care is a necessity, not a luxury.
Your child doesn’t think or perform clearly when they’re under massive stress, and neither do you.
Take time off to recharge your battery. Keep in touch with friends, find an interest other than parenting, and take a break. Some parents benefit from reaching out to a therapist, or taking an exercise class, or booking the occasional weekend off. At the very least, get out into nature and take a walk. Stress robs you of resilience you need to support your child and family.
Remember back when your child was an infant and you got no sleep? You did that, and you can do this.
3. Prepare for Mistakes
Give yourself permission to make mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes, because your child’s situation is unique and every LD parent is forced to use a trial-and-error approach. Don’t obsess over mistakes. Let go, take it as a growth experience, and move forward. You’re modeling behavior for your child, and the ability to fail and keep going is one of the biggest skills that they can develop. If one thing doesn’t work, try something new.
4. Develop and Nurture Your Own Big Picture
One way to help your child develop success attributes, and possibly balance out a difficult school experience, is to remember that you have life goals larger than school, and to bring those goals into your life. What are your family’s values, and what do they mean in the world? What’s really important to you and your family? Travel? Creating things? Hiking? Show your children the enjoyment that you get from being with family, doing a job well, helping others, and doing what you love.
Use your family unit to model the world for your child. Talk with your children about life, happiness, and success. Talk about your own frustrations or mistakes and how you deal with them. Model for your child how you blow off steam.
Finally, take a vacation. Especially for LD children, there is so much more to life than academic stress! And no, don’t make your child do daily homework during every vacation. Your child works extremely hard. Give him (and yourself) regular life-breaks. Clear your heads.
More than anything, give your child a place to develop strengths. It turns out that strengths that will carry your child to a successful, happy life are often formed by developing interests far away from academics, like sports, the outdoors, and family fun.
5. Make Balance a Priority
There is a lot of balancing that needs to go on in our lives. Here are the most important areas to look out for.
- Work and fun. Studies show that children learn more when they’re having fun. Children’s brains develop in every direction, stimulated by such things as being read to, cooking with mom or dad, and rolling down a hill. Play is what develops a child’s brain. It’s good to do schoolwork, but kids need free time too.
- Computers and physical time. Studies almost universally say that it’s best to severely limit computer game time. Some parents do this with a “no computers during the week” rule. Other parents limit time and make children play outside first. Best limit? No more than two hours on the computer, ever.
- Attention between siblings. Give each child some special alone time with you every week. Make sure every action and decision doesn’t revolve around your child’s LD. Highlight strengths and interests of all siblings. A family dinner, where you share challenges, accomplishments, and what you’ve learned, or the day’s highs and lows, is a great way to let all siblings participate and learn from one another.
- Time with family and spouse. Raising a child with an LD can be stressful. A date night can set things up for fun with your spouse without stress. You can also bring in a “mother’s helper” during the day on a weekend, who can play with your child, giving you relaxation time at home. Invest in your relationship by gifting one another with undivided attention. And don’t forget to laugh.
- Giving and getting. Your child will be getting a lot of help. One way to feel good about yourself is to offer help to others in return. Keep an eye out for volunteer activities that will help your child and family feel valuable to the community and give her a chance to give back.
- A schedule too heavy in therapy can send a negative message to your child. Don’t just feed your child a steady diet of “fix me” classes. A good rule of thumb is to have a maximum of one or two therapy classes a week, and to balance them with plenty of fun and down time, supporting friendship-building and interests. Children need to play.
Many parents will schedule a “therapy round” of three months. They set goals with the therapist at the start, and then check them afterwards to see if the therapy has been effective. Then they start a new activity or therapy for the next three months. Don’t overload.
More than anything else, take a breath, calm down, and realize that this is not a race. Take the time that you need.
6. Join Support Groups
It can be stressful and isolating to support a child with LDs. You’ll find that other parents of LD children can understand. The right parenting groups can change your life.
An online parenting group might have members online 24 hours a day with ideas, understanding, and resources. A local group might help you find other parents with similar children, who can gather for playdates, or perhaps just a mom’s night out. Both types of groups are great for parenting self-care.
During the LD journey, it’s natural to spend a lot of time and energy worrying and looking for answers. And even your closest friend or family member isn’t always able to help with some of the problems and questions you may have while parenting a LD child.
A parenting community or support group selects itself. Everyone in the group is deeply interested in this topic, and many have walked in your shoes. Learning to reach out to a support group can result in friendships and shared, deep interests.
Support groups can look like anything. Beth Berry, author of the Revolution from Home blog, recently wrote about how mothers who “lack a village” struggle. Her suggestions include becoming an integral part of something. “Whether it’s a knitting group, dance troupe, church, kayaking club, or homeschool collective, commit to growing community around one area of your life that enlivens you or fills a need,” she says.
More than anything else, remember that your child’s life is not your own. Don’t strive for experiences that you had, or to achieve things that you did as a child. Your child’s life is different, and different is OK.