6 Ways to Support the Emotional Well-Being of Children With Learning Disorders
By Robyn Matlon, Psy.D., M.A., M.Ed.
Imagine you keep falling behind your coworkers, feel confused about what is being asked of you all the time and, no matter how many extra hours of work you put in, your work keeps piling up. While this can be a common struggle for many people at some points in their lives or careers, for kids with learning disabilities, it is part of their experience every week, day, hour, and minute. As a result, it is very common for kids with learning disabilities to feel demoralized and to struggle with their emotions and overall self-concept.
Some indicators that your child may need additional emotional support are:
- Increase in anxious or avoidant behaviors, particularly in academic situations
- Increased sadness, tearfulness, or irritability
- Lowered self-esteem and/or negative self-talk
- Acting out (e.g., getting into trouble at school for ‘clowning’ around or being more defiant; quick to blow up at smallest stressor; getting into more fights with peers or siblings)
- Increased physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, stomach aches, and other health complaints that seem to be used to miss school)
- Decreased motivation or interest in activities they used to enjoy
Here are 6 things that parents can do to help support their child’s emotional well-being:
- Help your child understand his/her diagnosis and understand that a learning disability has NOTHING to do with intelligence! In fact, many kids with learning challenges are quite bright. They just struggle to put their abilities into action during typical academic tasks.
- Work with your child’s school and teacher to help them understand how your child’s learning challenges are impacting him/her emotionally and consider incorporating items into an IEP plan. Discuss with his/her teacher for signs that he/she is struggling emotionally and how to best support him/her.
- Parents and teachers should focus on giving positive reinforcement or praise as much as possible, since these kids tend to receive disproportionately more negative feedback from adults.
- Help your child find and celebrate their unique strengths and talents. Find something that your child enjoys doing, and that gives him/her a sense of accomplishment, and encourage continued practice and involvement in it. This will help your child feel more confident and ultimately boost his/her self-esteem and mood.
- If the current school setting does not seem to be meeting your child’s overall social-emotional, academic and behavioral needs, you may want to consider alternative school settings.
- Consider setting up a parent consultation or meeting with a child therapist to find new tools and ways to support your child.
Dr. Robyn Matlon is a licensed psychologist with specialized training in play therapy, child development, attachment, depression, anxiety, complex trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Robyn conducts comprehensive psychological assessments of children for a range of issues, including learning, attention, and memory challenges, as well as struggles with social-emotional or behavioral functioning. Her approach is strengths-based, collaborative, and draws on psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, mindfulness, and play therapy techniques. Previously, Robyn was an outpatient psychotherapist, testing program liaison, and clinical Quality Assurance coordinator for the Ann Martin Center. She received her bachelor’s degree and M.Ed. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and earned her M.A. and doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from the Wright Institute. She has received awards from the California Psychology Internship Council and Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services. Robyn is passionate about her work and excited to support the children and families of Marin County!