5 Common Worries When Your Child Learns and Thinks Differently

By Amanda Morin

At a Glance

  • All parents worry about their kids.

  • When your child learns or thinks differently, your worries may be more involved.

  • Having productive ways to manage your worries can help.

All parents worry about their kids. Are they healthy? Will they be happy? Are they fitting in at school? But when your child learns or thinks differently, your worries may be a little more involved. And they can sometimes get the best of you.

You may worry that you’re not doing all you can to help your child. Or you may be anxious about what your child’s learning struggles could mean for the future. It’s not uncommon to have these ongoing thoughts. But learning how to manage your worries about your child—while hard to do—is very important.

Here are some common concerns parents and caregivers have and productive tips to help you manage them.

1. Your Child’s Future

Why you may worry about it: Even when kids are very young, concerns about life after high school and beyond are common. For example, when kids have trouble with executive functioning, parents often worry that they won’t be able to develop independent living skills.

If schoolwork is a challenge, you might wonder whether your child will do OK in college or in a vocational school. You might worry that your child won’t be able to get a job and keep it. Or that your child might not develop the social skills to have good relationships as an adult.

Ways to manage it: Focus on what you can do right now. If your child is 7 years old, worrying about what will happen 10 years down the road isn’t going to help. Concentrate on how you can best address your child’s needs now. In doing so, you’ll build a foundation for your child to thrive in the future.

2. Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Why you may worry about it: When kids learn or think differently, new tasks and skills might not come as easily. Self-esteem is tied to how kids value themselves and how capable they feel. If your child has specific learning challenges, you might worry that this will lead to your child having more negative feelings and thoughts.

Ways to manage it: Make an active effort to help your child build positive self-esteem. By being supportive and realistic, you’ll help boost your child’s self-image and help your child find ways to feel valued. Keep your praise specific. (“I think it’s great that you asked for help from your teacher.”) And be sure to cheer on your child’s efforts in a way that supports self-esteem and self-evaluation. (“I saw how hard you studied for that test. Way to go!”)

Teaching kids to self-advocate, or to seek out and ask for help on their own, can also help you feel more confident and less worried.

3. Your Child Being Labeled

Why you may worry about it: Some parents worry that naming their child’s issues can be harmful. They might feel it creates labels that others will use to define their child. If this sounds like you, maybe you’re worried that, once the “cat’s out of the bag” on your child, people will be making assumptions and judgments left and right. You may worry that talking about your child’s learning and thinking struggles as a family might make it look like you’re labeling and making assumptions.

Ways to manage it: Try to think of your child’s diagnosis as a way to get the support and services you all need. It’s a way to make sense of everyone’s concerns and to help both you and your child. It’s a way to move forward and make progress. Like many well-known people, your child may feel empowered by this “label” and wear it proudly.

4. How Your Child Does in School

Why you may worry about it: Perhaps you’re concerned that your child will find school too hard to manage. Or if your child struggles in class because of certain learning challenges or just in general, you might be concerned about bullying. Or that your child will have trouble making friends.

Ways to manage it: Develop a solid relationship with your child’s school. Having a good relationship with your child’s teachers can help put your mind at ease and keep the lines of communication open. Knowing there’s a clear plan for meeting your child’s learning and social needs will help you feel better, too.

Sit down and have an open dialogue with your child. Check in regularly about how your child feels about school and friends. This back-and-forth gives you the chance to help troubleshoot issues together before they become too overwhelming.

5. Your Ability to Help 

Why you may worry about it: You’re not always sure what methods will help your child with specific learning or thinking struggles. You might worry that if you can’t “fix” the issue, you won’t be able to find any way to help and support your child.

Ways to manage it: Remember: You don’t have to do it all alone. You also don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to fix it. Raising a child who learns or thinks differently can feel isolating, but there are people you can turn to for help. Your child’s team at school, your pediatrician, extended family, and other parents who have children with similar challenges can all be resources for you.

Consider joining the Understood Community to share tips and suggestions with other parents and comfortably ask questions.

Moving Forward

If you have many of the worries listed here—or other worries—take heart. Having concerns like these can be a good motivator for finding ways to help your child and yourself. Use these challenges and your anxiety to empower your next steps.

Learn how to avoid being overprotective of your child as a result of your worries. Read one father’s story of how he got past the guilt of “giving” his son ADHD. And discover how one family learned to focus on supports instead of labels.

Key Takeaways

  • Learning how to help your child now can help ease your fears about the future.

  • Working with your child’s school on solutions can also reduce your worries.

  • Connecting with families with similar concerns can make you feel supported.

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