By Peg Rosen
Grade school is full of challenges, especially for kids with learning and attention issues. Here are some tips to prevent your child from feeling stressed.
Kids with learning and attention issues might not be aware that they’re feeling stress. Try to keep your questions low-key. Drawing together is a good way to get conversation flowing. Mention you’ve noticed something has been bothering her. Help her put a name on what it might be. “Are you feeling scared about reading out loud in Ms. Smith’s class?” Simply talking about feelings can be a relief.
A whole page of word problems can seem overwhelming, especially for kids with attention issues. Break the problems down into chunks—groups of three, for example. That can make the task more manageable. Promise fun breaks in between—she can FaceTime with a friend or take the guinea pig out to play. Praise her for each set she completes.
If your child is going to start a new activity, such as karate, visit ahead of time. Let her meet the lady at the front desk, check out the bathroom, and see the dojo. Ask the teacher to describe what she’ll do the first day of class. If the new activity seems familiar, your child won’t feel nearly as much anxiety about participating.
Most kids feel some stress when facing a new challenge. But they eventually dive in because past success gives them confidence. Kids with learning and attention issues need that same motivation—but success is often harder to come by. Watch for opportunities to praise accomplishments. It could be as simple as finishing three word problems without getting up. Knowing what success feels like may help her feel less overwhelmed and panicked when facing bigger challenges.
Suggest phrases she can repeat when facing stressful situations. “I am not afraid to try” or “I can do this” are two good examples. These thoughts will crowd out negative talk (“I’m too stupid to do this!”) and repeating the words over and over can be soothing.
Coming home to an organized place and rituals that stay the same can give your child security after a busy day at school. When possible, stick to a routine. Maybe it’s an afternoon snack, a walk with the dog, and then homework. On days with afterschool activities, try to have a regular routine too. Create some structure for weekends as well. Too much time without a schedule can make kids antsy.
Stress can build up like steam in a locomotive. Give your child plenty of opportunities to release some of the pressure. Make exercise a part of everyday life for her and the whole family. Sign up for a membership at your local Y and go together. Show her how to jump rope, sing out loud or dance to her favorite song between homework assignments.
For the child who struggles in school, being good at something like karate can be a big boost. Afterschool activities also give structure to the afternoons and stress-busting release. But don’t go overboard or you’ll make your child's stress worse. Ease into activities carefully, and do your best to leave some days open.
You may simply want her to do the best she can on spelling tests. But she may think she has to get “100%.” Tell her what you actually expect—that will lessen her stress. Or, for example, you might want her to clean her room on her own. But is that big task realistic? She might need you to break it into steps or keep her company.
Find a class where your child can learn yoga, meditation or deep breathing. Mental health experts who specialize in treating children with learning and attention issues can also help with stress management skills.
When kids get frustrated or bored with an activity, they may be tempted to quit. But when the going gets tough, you can help your child learn to “stick with it.” As school and social challenges can build up in middle school, it’s an important skill for kids. It can help boost their self-esteem and motivate them to keep trying. Here are six tips to help your middle-schooler stick with it.
You can also find these (and hundreds more) tips in Parenting Coach.
How can you find a good therapist or counselor for your child with learning and attention issues? We asked the Understood community where they’ve found help. And our experts added in their advice, too. Check out our top tips.
Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart.
Elizabeth Harstad, M.D., M.P.H., is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.
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