Are You Cut Out to Parent A Child With Learning Differences?


Are you “cut out” or “counted in?”  As parents we want to be a positive influence when we help our childrenParenting a child with learning differences with homework or a daily life task. We want to know that we have not simply helped our child push through and get the assignment done, but more importantly, that our child has discovered something key about their strengths and challenges and that our child looks forward to returning to us for support with other challenges. As an Executive Function coach who has worked with many children with learning differences, I frequently hear parents express worry and uncertainty about helping too much or not enough.

Years ago, I remember trying to help my own son write a report about Magellan.  This third grade assignment asked why Magellan chose a special ocean passage and how that mattered (besides that it became known as the Straits of Magellan).  In other words, “cause and effect” thinking was required.  My son’s natural strength was a verbal approach, as was my own.  I certainly was “cut out” to invest the time, push through, explain my thinking, and help get the assignment done.  But I was not “cut out” to help my son better understand how to do this assignment in ways other than a verbal approach.  The more I tried to verbally explain the concept of “cause and effect”, the more we became stuck.  A new perspective and approach was needed.  We needed space and time.  As I look back now, we probably could have used a coach.

What if I simply had tried other words than “cause and effect” such as “this makes that happen, so then…” But we were already spinning our wheels too deeply.  I wonder what would have been the result if a hands-on demonstration or visual examples were constructed?  What if we went to the sink or bathtub and re-created the Straits of Magellan and launched a toy boat?  And then we could have wondered together about Magellan’s choices.  The writing might have flowed.   

The paper was eventually completed over the course of a long vacation afternoon.  The time, energy, and emotional cost for both of us was unfortunately high.  I recognize now that I had missed an opportunity to help my son develop insight about his learning style. There was also a missed opportunity to make the job more fun.

We still clearly remember the sweat involved.  We still laugh together many years later that there was another essay choice about Balboa.  Whenever we hear the name Magellan or Balboa, it becomes code for “let’s not have that experience again."

If you are a parent of child with learning differences and would like to know more about how coaching can help, contact us.

Executive Function Skills Assessment to find out if Executive Function coaching is a good fit for a student.

photo credit: Tom Hilton

About the Author

Neal Elliott

Neal Elliott is a Senior Level Executive Function Coach, Supervisor, and member of the Leadership Team for Beyond BookSmart. He first joined the company in 2007 and is based in our Boston branch. In his role as Senior Level Coach, Neal coaches students and supports other coaches. Additionally, he helps new families learn about our coaching services by responding to inquiry calls and meeting with families for intake meetings. He serves on the Leadership Team and contributes to the growth of the company. While pursuing his Master’s in Education at Clark University, Neal supervised student teachers and did extensive research and in-school support of alternative school models within the public school systems in Newton and Worcester, Massachusetts.

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