(Please welcome Ms Whitworth back for her third guest blog appearance!)
It’s always a challenge to figure out the perfect balance between friend and foe when it comes to raising children. Children, in general, need routine and consistency in their lives to maintain good social and emotional development. It becomes even harder to decide what to do when parenting is complicated by other factors such as learning disabilities or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – 2 commonly diagnosed things today.
In the early stages of cognitive development, children are concrete thinkers who benefit from tangible solutions to problems, so keeping tangible incentives, rewards, and routinely enforcing expected behaviours concretely is a must for any child. Below you will find tips for sticking to routines which will benefit your child (ren).
Concretely lay out all the expectations
When starting any new routine with a child, whether this is at school, home, or daycare, explaining all parts of an expectation is crucial. I suggest having some sort of chart, which outlines the expectation (washing dishes for example every Monday night) and also has a spot to include the incentives that could help your child stay motivated to actually do these chores. If you tell your child to wash the dishes when you don’t feel like it one night, and then it’s another 3 weeks before you ask them to do it again, this does not set up the expectation that washing dishes is part of normal routine and something that must get done. Explaining why things are important is also something which helps children understand the reason behind the belief. If you can give them a real-world reason why they need to learn this it also helps them to remain motivated in their tasks.
Consistency is key
This brings me to my next point, when outlining expectations, be sure to remain consistent. If your rule is that there is no junk food during the week then maintain that even when you go to a party in the summer. Help your child make healthier choices at the party so that they cancel that craving, but also understand that a rule is a rule. Maintaining and consistently enforcing a rule that you have established as a family will be crucial in maximizing the lessons to be learned and getting the behaviour you want.
If there are siblings, there are likely to be conflicts – every family has them! My brother and I fight all the time, but usually it is resolved through good problem solving skills, (and occasionally my mother still has to lay down the law!) Because children with learning disabilities often find academic activities more challenging and need more one-on-one help with homework, there is often an increased need for parental support. This may be where most conflicts will arise. Balancing the time, as best you can, so that you spend it with each child engaging in meaningful conversation or activities. This extra time will reduce the conflict between siblings and also between parents. However, WHEN quarrels arise (and you can quote me on this: they will!), make sure that your learning disabled child is given the same consequences, conditions, room to grow, and security as your other children. I think this book (“The Complete Learning Disabilities Handbook”) says it exceptionally, the “child with learning disabilities should not be coddled or overprotected. With rare exceptions, that child needs the same parameters the other siblings are given and similar consequences when guidelines are violated”. Remaining consistent will help your child to learn that there are certain rules in society that they have to follow no matter what.
Intensive Behavourial Interventions
Knowledge is power, as the old saying goes. When you have a child diagnosed with learning disabilities or any other special need, learn all you can about it. If you know strategies to help your child you will be more likely to have a good working relationship with your child. The library, both public and the one at your child’s school, is a good place to look as they will often have many resources. In some extreme cases, intensive behavioural intervention strategies are needed to help your child function properly on a daily basis. Gain information, ask questions, seek support, and advocate for your child. As a parent, you are the one and only person who will always be there when support is needed; use that role to better your child’s life. There are also many good websites and association pages online these days; check out some listed at the end of this piece.
Have “The Talk” with your child
No, I am not talking about choices surrounding sexuality and safe sex here; instead what I mean is talking about every day things: values, goals, expectations, dreams, and any concerns or stresses that the family or individuals in the family are experiencing. Talking with your child is one of the most important things you can do to help foster a great relationship with your kids. Many parenting experts believe that having quality time with your child and taking the time to learn about that unique person your child is, especially as they grow older and develop more into their own person, will help you notice any difficulties your child is having -whether those be academic, social, behavioural, or otherwise. This will allow you to develop and nurture your role as: provider, support system, role-model and friend, and seek help and support sooner to help your child reach their maximum potential.
Finally, remember that just because your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability does NOT mean that he or she cannot learn, just that there may be different strategies required and more hands-on and involved educating involved. Learning Disability does not have to mean Learning Dysfunctional.
Join me next time for practical home-school strategies for families with children with Learning Disabilities.
A list of resources for learning disabilities: