At a glance
A support network refers to people in your child’s life who can offer her practical and emotional support.
It’s good for kids to know that everyone needs to ask for help, and it’s OK to ask when she needs help.
Gradually breaking away from helping your child can help her 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 she (and you) trust and can rely on for practical and emotional help. They may come from different places in her life. And they may change as she gets older. Her dance teacher might be one. Or her tutor. She might even find an older child with learning and thinking differences she feels comfortable talking with.
Here are four ways to help your child build her own support network.
1. Model how to ask for—and offer—help.
It’s important for your child to know that everyone needs help sometimes, not just her, and that it’s OK to ask for it. You can model this at home by asking her for help when you need it and showing your appreciation. She 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 she 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 your child to start handling some of her problems without you. That includes finding others who can offer support and advice.
Maybe your child suddenly has trouble making friends when she didn’t before. Or has a teacher she doesn’t seem to connect with. Instead of jumping in to fix it, ask who she thinks might be able to help. Is there someone she 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 your child does outside your home, the more opportunities she’ll have to meet people who may be good sources of support. Try to get her involved in activities in your community.
Maybe she 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 who wants her to succeed, or who values her contribution.
4. Nurture your child’s interests.
Does your child have a passion for something? Putting her in contact with people who share her interests can be a great way for her to meet peers, older kids and adults who can support her.
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, she might volunteer at the community hospital or nursing home.
A good way for your child to start building a support network is by thinking about the people she already goes to for help and what kind of support she’d still like to have. Talk to her frankly about her learning differences she can better understand her strengths and weaknesses. Being self-aware can allow her see where she needs help.
Building a support network doesn’t only provide a wider circle of people your child can turn to. It also helps build her 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 your child explore her interests may help her meet other adults and kids who can support her.
Having your child think about the people she already turns to for help is a good start.
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About the author
About the author
Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.
Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.