How can I help my child?
A question we are asked often by parents is how can we help our child with their learning when I don’t understand what they are learning myself?
This becomes more difficult if as an adult you have dyslexia or struggle with reading, writing, spelling or maths. Dyslexia runs in families so this is very common.
However, as a parent or caregiver there is something that we can do that has a very big impact. This is helping improve your child’s self esteem and helping them manage their anxiety (and yours) about their learning.
Neil Mackay, international dyslexic expert has said up to 80% of a learning difficulty is learning stress. This learning stress is the low self-esteem, the heightened anxiety about learning and the frustration that comes from living with a learning difficulty. So, if we work in this area we will be having an impact on 80% of the learning difficulty.
“Understanding our children’s frustrations with dyslexia and giving them the tools to blossom will give them the confidence to reach their true potential. We can help our children channel their interests and talents and ignite the passion within. “
Carolina Frohlich, Author, Dyslexic and Mum of dyslexics
What we can do
- To help improve self esteem we use targeted and specific praise and have an understanding about growth mindset.
- To improve the anxiety about learning we have to understand what gives them the anxiety in the first place
- To improve frustration we need to understand how they are feeling and how hard they’re working .
Improving self esteem
Target and specific praise looks at the effort required to complete tasks and activities. It’s not about the end result. Examples of using targeted and specific praise include;
- saying “well done for concentrating 10 minutes on your reading” (effort) rather than focusing on how much was read.
- saying “I like how you kept working through the task until you understood the concept” (persistence) rather than “well done for doing that”.
- saying “I know having to do that task was hard for you but you started it.” (determination) rather than saying “good effort”.
When we look for what to praise we can look for things like resilience, effort, persistence and determination. Think of a few phrases, write them down and refer to those few to start off with. It does take practice. Remember these children are praise starved. You can’t overdo it.
Growth mindset just means we understand the brain can change. It is really important that the children understand this so they know they can learn. Our language we use around them has an impact. If we only focus on the parts they can’t do this is what they hear. We need to balance what they hear, we need to include talking about their strengths so they have a balanced view of their abilities. Have a think about what their strengths are. They often don’t realise that not everyone thinks like them.
- seeing the big picture,
- being a visual based learner,
- connecting information in different ways to get different solutions to problems and
- connecting to other people.
For example, on the sports field these children may get a sense of where every player is on the field – this is a strength, not everyone can do this.
The most important word we can use with a growth mindset is the word YET. “You haven’t got it yet”, or “You don’t understand it, yet”. It shows that learning is a journey and even though it takes them more effort and more time they can absolutely still do it.
To help manage anxiety we need to start focusing on what the triggers are that make their brains go offline. Heightened anxiety causes the chemical cortisol into the brain and this makes it go offline. If we start to support the child to understand what the trigger is then we can start to use strategies to manage those triggers.
For example, if looking at a page of writing is enough to make the brain go offline the strategy would be to reduce the amount of writing on the page. This could be by covering up some of the information, it could be reducing how much is printed on a page, or it could be increasing the size of the font of the writing on the page. Another trigger for the brain going offline could be reading aloud in the classroom then a strategy could be that it is worked out between the teacher and the class that students can pass on reading aloud.
If your child starts misbehaving while trying to do homework, this can indicate that it is difficult and their brain has gone off line. Both of you can then start to notice what the triggers are and have a discussion about what it was that caused it.
Reducing the cortisol in the brain to get it back on line, or helping to stop it going off line in the first place is what we want to aim for. Tummy breathing is beneficial in reducing the cortisol. Your child may have other strategies that help, such as squeezing something, rubbing something soft etc.
All these strategies are about helping the child to feel in control and that their struggle with learning is not controlling them.
To reduce their frustration show them videos of what it means to have dyslexia or another learning difference. This will increase their understanding and enable them to advocate better for themselves.
Having activities outside school that the child is good at will help their self esteem. This boost to self esteem will flow over into their academic work. Look for something they can be good at and help them do it.
Finally, having dyslexia is not a super power, it’s a different way of thinking and processing information. We have weaknesses and strengths with it. Learning to read, write and spell can be difficult. We want to understand the areas we struggle with so we can improve and accommodate for them and we want to know our strengths so we can use them to help us learn.
Written by Chris Cole, Learning Differences Advisor for Learning Differences Aotearoa Trust