If you’re reading this website, we’re guessing that your child is bright, motivated, but isn’t able to succeed at learning with standard methods. We now know that children with LD often have brains that mature more slowly. That brain immaturity means that foundational skills(described in this post)—so important for learning—are slow to develop, making learning more difficult. And we know that skills acquisition is much more difficult for LD children than learning about concepts, stories, history, and knowledge itself.
That means that you’ll have to claim learning support for your child and help them acquire skills and abilities to function in the academic world. But all of that is different from what they will need to succeed as an adult.
We all know that children pay more attention to what we do than to what we say. They feel our attitudes and emotions. So our attitudes have a profound effect on how our children view themselves and approach difficulties.
As you parent your LD child, you’ll find yourself re-thinking some ideas that you’ve taken for granted, especially about success and failure. It can start with the words that you use, and how you talk about your child, as we discuss here.
The Path to Success is Separate from School Performance
We often pick up a definition of success from other parents or from our families. But it’s important to think consciously about and develop your own definition of success if you have a child who learns differently.
Dr. Edward Hallowell, founder of the Hallowell Centers and a NY Times bestselling author of books about Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), has both dyslexia and ADHD.
One of Dr. Hallowell’s most powerful messages is that school performance doesn’t predict performance as an adult.
Dr. Hallowell also warns that treating children with LDs as though they are sick or broken often makes children feel like failures, even when we’re trying to help.
Your Child’s Success Might Look Different Than What You Expect
Many of us were raised to look forward to our children experiencing the very same moments in their lives as we did. But your child’s life will be different from your own life, and your child may perceive life differently as well. Justin has multiple learning differences and is one of the 70% of LD children with social skills challenges. His childhood was filled with well-meaning ‘learn to play’ sessions.
In college, Justin came home and said “I’m an introvert. I only really need one friend, and I have one.” He’s right. One real friend is a solid accomplishment.
Remember: don’t make decisions for your child out of projection or pity. Make decisions because you’re looking forward, and working to guide your child into becoming a good, happy adult. Your child’s path might well be unique and individual.
What Qualities Bring Success?
Many experts encourage us to identify talents and strengths at the same time as we’re identifying learning problems. And then parents are encouraged to build those strengths. But parents report being confused and frustrated by the “strength” question: how do we support, or even identify strengths when our child isn’t an expert violinist, or able to do gymnastics at an early age? (We answer that HERE, by the way.)
Experts aren’t talking about the ability to bring home more gold medals when they talk about childhood strengths. Instead, they’re talking about old-fashioned character development.
Dr. Ned Hallowell suggests that the most important qualities to look for in a child are: “confidence, enthusiasm, the ability to persist in the face of disappointment, the ability to ask for and give help, spunk, a sense of humor, courage, ambition, the ability to take responsibility and the ability to do the right thing when no one is looking.”
These qualities, he says, are the real predictors of who will do well in life.
The Frostig Center of Pasadena published results from a 20-year study of what makes people with LD successful. They identified six attributes found in successful people, and produced a guide called Life Success for Students with Learning Disabilities: A Parent’s Guide.
The qualities Frostig discovered lead to success are:
- Goal setting
- Use of social support systems
- Emotional coping strategies
Not one of these attributes requires a school for development.
As a matter of fact, your child can work to develop these attributes while doing things like sports, family outings, hobbies, and volunteering in the community. But what doesn’t develop those attributes is relentless failure. And too often, relentless failure is what LD children encounter at school.
In his speech at the “Beat the Odds” Summit at the White House, Google’s Global Education Evangelist, Jaime Casap, said that:
Instead of asking your child what she wants to do when she grows up, talk with her about what’s going on in the world and ask her what problem she wants to solve. Then ask her how she will accomplish that.
In addition to talking about the world, reach out and expose your child to other people who have a passion for what they do.
Hopes, dreams, and passion will help to lift your child to success. Many parents report that it was their children who taught them about real success. Make sure to leave the door open to new directions.
In 2015, the National Center for Learning Disabilities released a report called Student Voices: A Study of Young Adults with Learning and Attention Issues. The report summarized research from the past two decades of following young LD children as they transitioned into adulthood—and what caused children to be “more successful,” or “less successful.”
The conclusions were that speaking up counts, mentoring helps, community connections make young people stronger, and that “having a confident and capable parent is strongly associated with young adult transition success.” It’s important for parents to stay strong and positive. We’re in this for the long run, and our modeling and support mean the world for our children.
Where Does Failure Fit in?
Failure is tricky when you’re the parent of a child with LD. In fact, we make a big point that relentless failure is bad for children. But there’s a big difference between relentless failure in no-win situations, and ordinary stumbles that happen all the time.
Relentless failure, with no possibility of success, sucks motivation and spirit away from a child. Mistakes and teachable moments, however, are some of the most valuable lessons of childhood.
Parents of children with LD are often in “protection mode.” Sometimes our children have uneven competencies, so we have to keep watch, quietly help, and make sure that our child has an opportunity to succeed in their environment. But even while we do that, we need to actively search for situations that will build persistence. We talk more about this in our Executive Parenting post.
Remember when your child was learning to walk? They kept falling and trying, until they succeeded. They didn’t quit. And they did it themself. Every child has that drive when they’re young.
It’s important for children to keep that drive, for them to see failure as just part of the process, not some huge, horrible destination. It’s also important that they don’t learn to sit passively, waiting for a parent to step in. When your child finally learned to walk after all of those bumps, they felt awesome!
Our attitude toward failure is one of the things that gives us a sense of well-being: the ability to move on and succeed. The ability to fail— and to learn from failure and keep going — is one of the secrets to success.
Tips on failure from other parents:
- Expect a lot from your child. We should expect our children to cook, clean, and do laundry, and other chores. Even if your child has a hard week with spelling, they can do a wonderful job washing the laundry or helping the family by putting away the dishes. Don’t take those successes (and that growth) away.
- Put your hands in your pockets and let your child do things by themself. If they make mistakes, keep your hands in your pockets while you ask them to identify what failed, and how they will fix it. Then let them do it. Yes, it will take much longer. That’s OK. You’re giving your child power over their own success.
- If your child hates to lose, use rock-paper-scissors or dice competitions to decide everything. When you set up lots of little tiny you-might-fail situations, with immediate try-agains, it can help to remove “I might fail” as the focus.
All children experience failure, but for children who learn differently, failure is built into the system. It’s your job to create opportunities for and pathways to success, not to simply prevent failure. Resilience in the face of failure can be exercised in many different parts of a child’s life. Take opportunities to let your child experience and own some failures and to think through and create solutions right from the beginning. It will pay off.