At a glance
Parents of kids who learn and think differently often feel guilty.
While feelings of guilt are common, they aren’t justified or helpful.
There are lots of ways you can let go of parenting guilt and move forward.
If you often feel guilty because your child struggles at school or has behavioral challenges, you’re not alone. Feelings of parenting guilt and shame are very common among families of kids who learn and think differently.
Understanding why you feel this way can help you let go of parenting guilt. Then you can take some positive, active steps to feeling better.
Why you might feel parenting guilt
Parents and caregivers experience feelings of guilt for all kinds of reasons. Here are some of the most common ones when your child has learning and thinking differences.
Feeling that you “gave” these challenges to your child. If you have learning and thinking differences, you may feel like you passed them on to your child. Read one dad’s story of how he got past the guilt of “giving” his son ADHD.
Feeling that you overlooked the earliest signs. You might worry that you didn’t see the earliest signs of your child’s struggles and didn’t get an evaluation soon enough.
Feeling bad because you wish your child didn’t learn and think differently. Sometimes you might view your child’s struggles as a struggle for you, too. You might think “Why me?” or “Why my child?”
Feeling like you’re a bad parent. Even if you know it’s not true, you may still feel that your child wouldn’t be struggling in school if you only tried harder. Or other people might say or do things that make you feel like your parenting is to blame.
Feeling shame about your reactions. You might feel ashamed that you haven’t been as patient, kind, or empathetic as you think you should be.
Ways to get past parenting guilt
These feelings are normal. They’re not helpful, though. And they don’t reflect reality. Knowing that can help you set aside your guilt and move forward productively. Here are tips to help:
Know that you didn’t cause your child’s challenges. There’s no way to predict whether a child will have a learning and thinking difference. There’s no way to prevent it. And these challenges aren’t caused by “bad” parenting.
Lean into support. Knowing you’re not alone can help a lot and keep you from blaming yourself. Other families of kids with similar struggles can be a source of advice and information. You can also talk to certain relatives and friends to let them know what you need and how they can help.
Remember to take care of yourself. Some days will be better than others. Find strategies to help you cope on tough days. But go easy on yourself if those strategies don’t always work. Most importantly, have a plan in place to manage situations that trigger guilt.
You may also want to consider joining one of our online community groups, where you can connect with other families who’ve been there.
Parenting guilt is very common, especially when your child struggles in any way.
You did not cause your child’s struggles and challenges.
Connecting with other parents can help in lots of ways. For one, it reminds you that you’re not alone.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.