Walk A Mile in Your Child’s Shoes

By Heidi Rosenholtz

Have you ever chaperoned your child’s class trip and desperately tried to control the group as effortlessly as the teacher? Or stepped in for an absent soccer coach on a Saturday morning? Did you feel your entire personality change as you jumped into the fray with the delicacy of a drill sergeant?

If stressful situations turn us into beings we barely recognize, consider what happens to children confronted with the frustrations that children with LD face every day in school.

Put Yourself in His Shoes

Take a minute to imagine what the school experience is like for your child. Start with the moment he goes through the school doors. What’s he seeing when he goes through those doors? What’s he feeling? What are his goals for his math class?

Many LD experts believe the driving force behind a child’s day is avoiding humiliation at all costs. He may look proud as he hands in a well-done assignment, makes a tough shot in basketball, or wears the cool new shirt he paid for himself, but those accomplishments are first and foremost reassurances that he’s keeping humiliation at bay.

Now consider the question of motivation—the charge that he doesn’t try hard enough. Does it really make sense that he sets out not to make an effort? That would be a poor plan for humiliation avoidance. Instead might he appear disinterested or inattentive or perhaps act like a clown to spare himself the embarrassment of not knowing the answer when called on? It’s easier to mumble, “I don’t know,” when asked where the math homework is, than to admit, “I carelessly forgot to zip my backpack and it probably fell out on the bus.”

Coach for Success

As a parent, one of your roles is to help minimize opportunities for chaos and uncertainty in your child’s day. Rather than focus on his lack of organization—“Your backpack is a mess; no wonder you can’t keep track of everything in it”—shift your perspective to first identify the problem: “Let’s look at the incredible collection of things that accumulate in here.” Then, to the greatest degree possible, put your child in control of what happens next: “Where would you like to store the work you don’t need to take back to school?” Feel free to make helpful suggestions, such as “What do you think about putting the things to hand in tomorrow in a folder?”

Shifting perspective and creating opportunities for empowerment are two of the powerful tools you can use to coach your child to deal with his often vexing life. Instead of thinking only of what he doesn’t do well, look at your child as the creative, resourceful young person he most likely is.

Next time there’s an argument heating up about anything from the state of school materials to the real truth about how hard your child has been trying in school, shift out of the parental perspective for a moment to experience what your child might see and feel.

Heidi Rosenholtz is an academic and productivity coach.