In the last couple weeks, as I’ve been talking with parents at my learning center, I’ve sensed an undercurrent of anxiety about the end of summer. Let’s face it, the start of the school year is not just about changes for the kids; it’s a time of adjustment for parents, too! And if you’re the parent of a child with learning challenges, this season of change can bring on the same feelings of anxiety and avoidance for you as it does for your child.
While summer is a time of freedom from homework and fun in the sun, for many families the fall means the return of nightly homework battles and dealing with the stress of tough-to-meet teacher expectations. For parents of children with learning differences, this affects the whole family. As we all know, when a child struggles, parents also feel the burden, whether it shows in fear, worry, or guilt. The problem is that these emotions are even more perceptible to your child than they are to the outside world.
I certainly don’t want to discount the challenges parents face in dealing with kids with learning challenges; however, I have seen too many cases of parents so wrapped up in their own guilt, fear, or anxiety, that their child really starts to feel like something is terribly wrong with him or her.
There was a family I worked with a couple years ago, where the mother was so full of fear and anxiety about her child not keeping up with his classmates that she would make the most horrible ugly-cry face every time she talked about her son – even in his presence. She was so focused on her child having a problem and how others perceived her because of it that she communicated this heavy sad feeling to her child on a daily basis. The message this kid got from his mom was that his problems were big and scary to her, which meant they were even bigger and scarier to him.
What children with learning differences need is parents to give them a sense of hope and encouragement, so they feel capable of working through their challenges, seeing their potential for growth in the help they receive.
In these back-to-school months, your child needs a parent who is optimistic and encouraging and can take action to put the right supports into place. Being a strong parent for a child with learning difficulties is not an easy job for sure. It demands selfless care for others, oftentimes putting what you want second to what your child needs. But it also requires a higher level of self-care to not only model positive habits for your child, but to equip you with the energy and tools to maintain your calm through the challenges ahead. You, too, may need to seek support to work on your emotional difficulties or organizational skills to be better equipped to give your child what he or she needs in a dependable parent.
Instead of waiting until the New Year to set goals and make resolutions, take the opportunity this fall to embrace the season of change with the back-to-school season. Commit to a new routine of self-care or support for your child, so that this year will be better than the last. Show your child that while you may not be able to choose the strengths and weaknesses of your brain, you do have the power to choose what kind of attitude you bring into each and every day. Start with yourself to help your child choose a positive attitude!
First things first – you have to take care of yourself in order to be strong for others. Not only will your regimen of self-care give you the energy and mental clarity to be there for your child, it will also set an important model for your child to follow! Assess what’s out of balance in your self-care routine and commit to making one new positive habit to shift you in a positive direction:
- Health – If nutrition or exercise has taken the backseat to caring for others, it’s time to put your health back in the driver’s seat! Look into a meal-prep service or private chef to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals. Or, add morning walks or an exercise class into your regular schedule. Put your exercise time in your calendar and respect it like any other appointment.
- Relationships – If your personal relationships are suffering due to your focus on your child, make a commitment to spending time with your partner or a close friend on a weekly basis. Set a regular date for a lunch, walk, or dinner date, so you have the time you need to strengthen personal connections and get that important “adult time” for conversations that go beyond what’s trending among your child’s friends.
- Mindset – You may find that while your health and relationships are strong, you still feel consumed with worries and mental chatter. If this is the case, taking time to calm your mind and focus on what’s going right is what you need to make a priority. If you’re new to meditation, try the Headspace App to ease into a space of mental calmness that will carry through the day. If meditation isn’t your thing, start a gratitude journal or take time to express three things you’re grateful for with your family before dinner or at bedtime. You’ll be amazed at the difference this simple practice can make in the way you feel about everything that used to seem overwhelming.
Beyond taking better care of yourself, you can ease your anxiety by taking proactive steps to make this school year better than the last for your child. Here are just a few suggestions for how to get off on the right foot this fall:
- Initiate communication with your child’s teacher(s). Set up a face-to-face meeting to discuss your child’s needs and your concerns. If your child is in middle or high school, email teachers to introduce yourself and share a little about your child’s background.
- Update your child’s testing. Learning disability diagnoses are considered current for three years. Beyond that, testing should be redone to assess for growth and changes in the child’s needs. Having a current evaluation to share with your child’s school and outside support providers will help to ensure that your child gets the right help this year.
- Access resources at your child’s school or in the community for more specialized support. While you may have heard in the past that your child will “outgrow” academic challenges, it may be time to face the fact that extra help is needed to build your child’s skills and confidence. Don’t wait! Engage the right help now so that your child feels supported before the class shifts from review material to newer concepts that start the cycle of homework battles, anxiety, and poor academic self-esteem.
So, while keeping your anxiety at bay goes a deeper than just putting on a happy face, research in psychology shows that forcing a smile or laugh can trigger the brain chemicals that make you FEEL happy! Better yet, share a smile or laugh with your child and give him or her a joyful moment to bolster resiliency to tackle the challenges in the school year ahead.
About the Author:
Megan Cohen Trezza, M.Ed., is the founder of La Jolla LearningWorks and works with passion and dedication to help kids with learning difficulties find enjoyment and success in school and life. Connect with her online at Facebook at www.facebook.com/LaJollaLearningWorks or via email at megan@LJLearningWorks.com.