Q&A

How to talk with your child about signs you’re noticing

By Tara Drinks

3 answers

If you’re seeing signs that your child is struggling with learning and thinking differences, chances are you’re wondering what to do next. Having open and honest conversations with your child is a good way to find out what’s going on — even if you’re not sure how to begin.

Starting a dialogue may be tricky at first. You’ll need to adjust what you say based on your child’s age and how open your child is in general. But the more you talk, the easier the conversations become, and the more you’ll learn about your child’s challenges.

Read on for tips for talking with your child. And find out what some young adults wish their parents had said to them when signs first appeared.

Jot it down. 

Before speaking with your child for the first time, write down exactly what you’ve been noticing. (You can also record a memo or send yourself a text or email.) For example, does your child get easily frustrated by math homework? Or maybe your child spells the same words wrong over and over. Jot down a few examples to mention during your talk.

Example: “I’ve noticed that you seem frustrated when you have math homework. Can you tell me what part of math is difficult?”

Use empathy.

If you’re noticing that your child is struggling, chances are your child notices it, too. Opening up about challenges can be scary or upsetting. Empathize and let your child know that everyone struggles with something.

Example: “We all have some areas that are tricky for us. And that’s OK. We all have strengths, too.”

Be your child’s partner.

It’s common to not have the answers right away. Be honest and tell your child that you’ll find the answers together.

Example: "Let’s talk to your teacher and find what’s been happening at school. Maybe there are things we can all do to make it better. How does that sound?”

Listen.

You want your child to give you information that can help you understand what’s going on. Your child wants to feel heard. So, be sure to really listen — and show it.

Example: “You’ve mentioned that homework can be stressful at times. And I understand. Can you tell me more about why it’s stressful?”

“What I wish my parents had said to me”

It’s not always easy to know how to talk to your child about difficult things, especially if you don’t have any answers. Here, three young adults share what they wish their parents had said when the signs of challenges first appeared.

Answer fromAtira Roberson

I had an idea something was up, but I couldn’t explain it and didn’t know how. My parents told me, “Your brain works differently from other people, but that does not mean you can’t grow up and do whatever you want.” I wish my parents would have told me more about what my teachers and doctors were saying.

Answer fromRyan Douglass

When my parents first saw signs, they asked me a lot of questions. Questions like why I wasn’t participating in class, and then questions about my behavior.  

I wish my parents would have told me that we all learn differently. And that’s OK. I think if I would have heard this more often, I wouldn’t have felt embarrassed about how my brain works.

Answer fromOlivia Thomas

My parents were very supportive. But in middle school, we disagreed on homework because we didn’t know how to communicate with one another. I knew my parents had my back, but I wish they listened more to me about what I was going through and then help.

Key takeaways

  • Kids need to feel heard when having tough conversations about their struggles. 

  • Use empathy and show your child that you’re both in this together.

  • Tell your child it’s OK to have challenges and think differently than other kids.

    Tell us what interests you

    Share

    About the author

    About the author

    Tara Drinks is an associate editor at Understood.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.