Setting Our Kids Up for Success

By Emmy Fearn, Ph.D


Looking back on raising two now-adult children with learning difficulties provides a clear vantage point to assess what works For this family, the keys to success include open communication, building on their children’s strengths, and working closely with the school

Being parents of two young adults with LD and ADHD has provided my husband and me with years of trial-and-error experience in child raising. Happily, in spite of inevitable missteps, our children are achieving, socially-responsible, loving individuals, leading productive lives and enjoying successful careers.

Here are a few thoughts on how we supported our children to help them become the confident adults they are today:

Open Communication

From the very beginning, we explained our children’s learning challenges to them in unemotional terms they could understand. This was important to do, because—as with many children with disabilities—our first-grade daughter’s school experience had led her to believe she was stupid.

We explained why they needed to take medication. They became partners in managing their behavior, and they felt empowered. As a result, we never encountered typical teenage problems with compliance or missing pills.

Our children knew where they stood with us, and they trusted us to protect them and be fair.

We presented a united front to friends and family, and we had realistic expectations for our children’s behavior.

Confidence Building

We identified each child’s interests and strengths and supported them in developing their talents. This strengthened their sense of self-worth, and gave them the confidence to tackle things they weren’t as good at. Success in one area motivated them to work hard in more challenging areas.

We discovered “tricks” to help them do better in school, which helped them develop confidence and become advocates for themselves. They understood that some things they had to do or learn might not come easily, but that working hard increased the likelihood of achieving a goal.

Partnering with the School

We made sure that their teachers understood their learning disabilities and what they could do to help our children succeed. This resulted in their teachers being more understanding and successful in helping them, which is what teachers want to do.

We checked in with the children to make sure that homework assignments were within the scope of their abilities, and provided feedback to teachers as necessary. However, we did not do homework with or for them. Doing their own work contributed to their developing self-competence.

Optimizing our children’s school experiences was central to our strategy, especially in grade school, when much of their lives and our family time revolved around school activities. We also considered the effect of decisions—such as whether or not to take medication—on the entire family, and we created a child-centered environment, where our children and our family always came first.

Emmy Fearn is an adjunct faculty member at San Francisco State University and CSU East Bay, where she uses her professional and personal experiences to inspire those interested in the field of Special Education.