Five Things to Do When … Your Kid Thinks He/She is Stupid
I my experience, most kids who have learning challenges AND who do not understand their challenges well, over-react to their difficulties and call themselves “stupid.” The actual truth, however, is that these kids are often REALLY smart - but their learning is inefficient compared to their peers.
Kids with Learning Disabilities often remind me a the famous Ginger Rogers quote: that she had done everything Fred Astaire had done, but “backwards and in high heels.” (If you are under 30, you might have to watch a YouTube video of Fred and Ginger to appreciate the quote!) Kids with ADD or Dyslexia or High Functioning Autism are often trying to do everything their peers are doing - while at the same time their brains are working against them making their work much more time consuming and difficult.
If your ADD/LD kid thinks he/she is “stupid” here are a few things to think about:
1. Make Sure YOU understand their learning challenges
It is very easy to listen to a psychologist discuss your child’s testing profile and then forget half of what you heard! It is also easy for the rest of the information to get fuzzy over time! I think that a periodic review of the strengths and weaknesses in your child’s IQ testing can really help you keep their challenges in mind as you teach them.
As kids get older, specific learning challenges manifest themselves in new ways as your child grows and the demands of the curricula increase. So refreshing your knowledge of their difficulties as new demands come up will help you remain supportive as they encounter new challenges.
2. Make sure THEY understand their learning challenges
It is not enough for us to understand our kids’ learning issues, we must also make sure that they understand them as well. It is important to show high functioning kids the strengths and weaknesses they have so that they can understand how their brain works and why some things are hard for them.
I often encourage parents to use learning disabilities as a Science class. Studying the various learning difficulties and how they affect learning or social situations can be very empowering for students.
However, the truth is that your student may be very resistant to hearing about his/her learning difficulties. Teens especially really struggle with anything that makes them different from their peers. So be patient with this, but keep addressing it. We must communicate truth in love - even if they don’t want to hear it. My youngest son never liked me to talk with him about his ADD, but when he left home and started taking college classes he suddenly told me that he realized that he needed to take ownership of his ADD if he was going to be able to succeed in college. He wouldn’t have been able to get to this point if I hadn’t just kept telling him the truth even when he didn’t want me to!
3. Communicate Acceptance
As I just said, we need to speak truth in LOVE to our kids. Don’t forget the love and acceptance part!! Often our kids can be very exasperating and it is easy for us to over-focus on the negative behaviors. Remember that for every negative thing you say, you need to counter with a positive!! Part of helping our kids accept themselves is to make sure that you show them that you accept them too. When they have difficulties, acknowledge this and give them a positive too. If they have trouble paying attention, tell them that you understand this and that you know it is hard. Then ask them to give you the best 15 minutes they can give you of their attention on a task and praise them for giving their full energy to that. Notice I didn’t say full attention!! Their full energy may not be as much attention as YOU think it should be - but if you see them trying - praise them!!
4. Promote Passions and Strengths
Our kids passions are sometimes things we don’t think of as “what they need for their future” but we don’t actually know what our kids will end up being or doing? How many actors have you heard say that they were told they weren’t “college material” - as if that was the only good thing to be? They followed their passions - and look - they are doing fine. Now, most of our kids are not going to make the cover of People Magazine - but they will probably do just fine in their own way if we encourage them to follow their passions.
But, it doesn’t do any good to tell our kids about their strengths if we don’t also show them specific, concrete ways that they can put these strengths into action. (For example: “I know that you are really good at making great computer graphics - so first I want you to summarize this book using pictures, and then we will work together on turning each of the pictures into a paragraph”).
You can also structure lessons around passions such as cooking, mechanics, horses etc. It isn’t as easy as opening a textbook - but it will be much more practical and helpful for your student.
Don’t just think out of the box yourself - show your student how to think out of the box as well!! Encourage them that re-building a motorcycle yes indeed is “school” and you are proud of their ability to do it!! Ask them for ideas of things they would like to do for school and then find ways to fit their ideas into your schedule.
5. Help them Learn and Use strategies for managing their learning challenges
If your child learns better by listening, show them how to use audio books so that they can use age appropriate books. Or if your child has trouble with handwriting, show them how to type or use voice to text - and make sure that you tell them that communication is more important than whether it is handwritten, typed or done by voice!!
Again, our kids often resist our attempts at teaching them strategies such as timers, lists, schedules, audio books etc., but we have to keep putting it before them so that in the future they have some ideas to come back to. Be sure you show them how YOU use strategies, such as a calendar, to stay organized. Often kids think “adults” don’t have to use these things and it is only because they are “stupid” that they need to use them. But I couldn’t survive without my color-coded Google calendar!! Be sure to help them see that SMART adults use helps!!