Talking with your child

How to Respond to Kids’ Concerns About Learning and Attention Issues

By Geri Coleman Tucker

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It can be hard to know what to say when kids express concerns about their learning and attention issues. Here’s a list of responses that may open the door to more discussion—now or in the future.

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Close-up of mother talking and encouraging her daughter
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If your child asks: “Why am I the only one having trouble?”

You might respond: “You’re not the only one at all. Many people learn differently. You probably even know some kids in your class who have learning issues. There are some things you do really well—even better than most kids. Everyone has strengths and challenges. The important thing is that you, your teachers and I all keep working hard to make sure the things that are hardest for you don’t get in your way too much.”

Father and son sitting outdoors having a talk
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If your child asks: “Will it go away?”

You might respond: “Learning issues don’t disappear. But there are things you can do so they don’t get in your way as much. There are also things I can do and things your teachers can do to help you. We’re all still figuring out how you learn best, and the most important thing is for us all to talk about it when something doesn’t go well.”

Mother and daughter looking in the mirror with pride
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If your child asks: “Is there something wrong with my brain?”

You might respond: “Not at all. You have a very good brain. Did you know that all brains work a little differently? Your brain processes information in ways that are unique to you. That’s what makes you who you are and lets you do all the things you do really well. It’s also why some things are harder for you. It’s up to you, me and your teachers to figure out the best ways to allow your brain to do its work.”

Close up of young boy talking to his father
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If your child asks: “Does anyone else in our family have learning issues?”

You might respond: “That’s a good question. Learning issues sometimes do run in families. I bet if we asked around we could find out whether there are other people in our family who’ve had similar challenges with learning. It’s good to know so that you can find out what worked for them and what didn’t work so well along the way.”

Teacher giving special attention and help to a young student
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If your child says: “I hate school. The work is too hard.”

You might respond: “A lot of smart kids have trouble with schoolwork. I know there are lots of things you like about school. And I know you find some of the work very hard. Tomorrow when the work gets hard, I want you to tell your teacher that it’s getting frustrating and that it would help if she showed you how to do it again. Then you can come home and show me.”

Mother comforting daughter who looks overwhelmed with her homework
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If your child tears up over homework, overreacts to questions about the school day or seems unusually quiet or withdrawn.

You might ask: “What’s the biggest difference between today and yesterday, this week and last week, or this year and last year?” Sometimes a child might not know what’s bugging him. Or he might find it hard to explain. If you ask what’s wrong, you might only get a shrug. But by being more specific and asking him what’s changed, you might help him open up.

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About the Author

Portrait of Geri Tucker

Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for USA Today.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Bob Cunningham

Bob Cunningham, Ed.M., serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.

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