Of course you want your child with to do their best. But sometimes, even well-meant comments from parents can have a negative effect. Dr. Charles Sophy, medical director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, lists some common remarks that can hurt — and what you might say instead. (You may want to adjust these based on your child’s age.)
1. “If you can’t read your own writing, you can bet your teacher can’t either.”
This remark suggests that if a child had tried harder, their writing would be neater. In fact, giving it more effort or doing it again isn’t likely to improve the finished product.
Instead, respond with a “strength-based” comment. You might say: “I know you did your best. It must be frustrating that the result doesn’t show how hard you worked. Would you rather type your answers on the computer? We can attach the printout to the worksheet. We can talk to your teacher, too, if you like.”
2. “Is this writing assignment finished? It doesn’t look like you gave it much thought.”
Kids with dysgraphia may have trouble getting ideas on paper. The effort of holding the pencil and forming letters can make them forget what they wanted to write. Organizing thoughts into sentences and paragraphs can also be tough.
When your child’s written work lacks depth or is missing key details, you might say, “Tell me more about these ideas. I want to make sure you get everything down, so I’ll take notes.” Having a scribe can help your child focus on ideas and make the task more manageable.
3. “If it makes you feel funny to use a keyboard at school, you don’t have to do it.”
It’s understandable that kids don’t want to stand out. But it’s important that they use available tools. That’s especially true as they get older. Letting your child avoid an may reinforce anxiety about the issue.
Using these tools can help your child succeed and likely get over feeling self-conscious. So if your child doesn’t want to use a keyboard at school, you might say, ”Let’s rehearse what you can say to kids who want to know why you get to use a computer and they don’t!”
4. “Writing is such a struggle for you. I think you should focus on other areas that come more naturally.”
Your intentions are good: You want to save your child frustration and help channel efforts into areas where success will come more easily. But what your child may hear is that you don’t think they’re that smart.
Instead, your child needs you to be their champion. The fact that your child is willing to take a risk and go beyond their comfort zone is good. can make a huge difference and allow your child to flourish at the school newspaper or in a creative writing class.
5. “If you keep coming home with unfinished schoolwork to do, you can’t hang out with your friends after school.”
It’s likely that your child really can’t work any faster. This kind of remark may make kids feel like nothing they do is good enough. Kids who feel inadequate start avoiding tasks, don’t want to take risks, and may act out or rebel because they’re angry.
If the completed work is correct, focus on the quality. You might say, “You did a good job. It looks like you ran out of time. I’ll call the teacher to ask about adjusting the workload.” Or, if your child is ready to self-advocate, suggest that you meet with the teacher together.
About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.