At a glance
A support network refers to people in your child’s life who can offer practical and emotional support.
It’s good for kids to know that everyone needs to ask for help.
Gradually breaking away from helping your child can help your child reach out to others for support.
All kids need a network of people they can turn to for support beyond just their parents. For kids with learning and thinking differences, it’s especially important to be able to self-advocate and ask for help. It’s a skill they can start building as early as grade school — and one they’ll benefit from their entire lives.
The people in your child’s support network are ones that your child (and you) trust and can rely on for practical and emotional help. They may come from different places in your child’s life. And they may change as your child gets older. The dance teacher might be one. Or your child’s tutor. Your child might even find an older child with learning and thinking differences who they feel comfortable talking with.
Here are four ways to help your child build a support network.
1. Model how to ask for — and offer — help.
It’s important for your child to know that everyone needs help sometimes and that it’s OK to ask for it. You can model this at home by asking your child for help when you need it and showing your appreciation. Your child might pitch in putting groceries away or help get a younger sibling ready for bed while you clean up the kitchen.
Your child can also benefit from seeing you supporting others. If you’re bringing food to the neighbor who just had a baby, ask your child to help you prepare it and drop it off. That way your child can also see how other people accept help.
2. Start backing away from helping your child.
As kids get older, they constantly face new challenges. Of course you want to help. But it’s important for kids to start handling some of their problems without their parents. That includes finding others who can offer support and advice.
Maybe your child suddenly has trouble making friends when they didn’t before. Or has a teacher they don’t seem to connect with. Instead of jumping in to fix it, ask who they think might be able to help. Is there someone your child can talk to at school? You can also suggest people. “I remember that your cousin Jenny had some friend-problems when she was your age. She might have some terrific advice.” Or, “I bet your guidance counselor can help you find ways to talk to your science teacher.”
3. Widen the circle.
The more kids do outside the home, the more opportunities they’ll have to meet people who may be good sources of support. Try to get your child involved in community activities.
Maybe your child could join a youth group at church or temple. Or become a mother’s helper on weekends. There may be community volunteer projects you could join as a family. It’s important for your child to know that you’re not the only one who wants them to succeed, or who values their contribution.
4. Nurture your child’s interests.
Does your child have a passion for something? Putting kids in contact with people who share their interests can be a great way for them to meet peers, older kids, and adults who can support them.
Your grade-schooler who loves animals might pet sit when neighbors go out of town. Your middle-school softball player might attend a clinic the high school coach runs for younger kids. And if your teenager is interested in a career in a health-related field, your teen might volunteer at the community hospital or nursing home.
A good way for kids to start building a support network is by thinking about the people they already go to for help and what kind of support they’d still like to have. Talk to your child frankly about their learning differences so they can better understand their strengths and weaknesses. Being self-aware can allow kids to see where they need help.
Building a support network doesn’t only provide a wider circle of people your child can turn to. It also helps build self-esteem and sense of independence.
Being involved in activities in the community can expose your child to new people who can be supportive.
Letting kids explore their interests may help them meet other adults and kids who can support them.
Having your child think about the people they already turn to for help is a good start.
About the author
About the author
Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.
Bob Cunningham, EdM has been part of the Understood team since its founding. He has also been the chief administrator for several independent schools and a school leader in both general and special education.