How to Help Your Kid with ADHD and Learning Disabilities

Parenting tools and techniques to help kids with ADHD and learning disabilities deal with challenges.

A parent writes: Both our son and daughter struggle with learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder. As they struggle, so do my husband and I. Communication breaks down into arguments, problems arise in school and among peers, and we are often unsure of how to handle their emotional ups and downs. Any suggestions?

Children with ADHD and Learning Disabilities: What's A Parent to Do?

Children with LD and ADHD present unique challenges and rewards to parents. The vulnerability of a fragile ego, the unthinking behaviors rooted in impulsivity, or the steep decline of emotional meltdowns, can render even the most patient parent looking for tools and techniques to manage their child's unpredictable behaviors. These scenarios fall under the heading of what I have come to call the "Now, what do I do?" syndrome. It is a question echoing through the minds of all parents at one time or another.

Effective Tools for Parenting ADHD and LD Children

As a child psychologist who trains parents who regularly witness these scenarios, I help empower parents with tools and tips to manage the emotional and social currents of ADHD and LD children. Here are some to consider:

Stress through words and actions that you are on the same "team" with the child. When emotions are peaking, children with ADHD and LD may perceive us as taking sides and rushing to judgment. Sometimes these perceptions are accurate. A nurturing tone of voice and an open mind sends the message that we want to listen to their point of view. Every interaction you have when they are emotionally charged is an opportunity for them to see you as a coaching ally, not a judging adversary. Ally with them by starting conversations with comments such as "Let me hear your side" or "You look like you need to talk - let's find a private place." Listen intently and resist jumping to conclusions. Instead, "float" some ideas with statements such as "I understand your feelings now so let's try to figure out what we can learn from this situation. Maybe there's a lesson for both of us - a way for me to understand you better and for you to better understand yourself." Move towards more meaningful discussion of the issues by suggesting that if they can be open to their contributions to what happened positive change can occur. Don't force the discussion and offer them time to be ready.

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When it's time to talk, have your "verbal playbook" ready for use. Once you have built a trusting dialogue, it's time to offer them your explanations about what went wrong. Explain how their thinking side (the part of their mind that makes good decisions and watches over their behavior) sometimes loses control over their reacting side (the part of them that reacts emotionally to triggers in their life). This commonsense dichotomy resonates with most children's experience and allows you to explain how certain traps in their life trigger the reacting side. Typical traps include being teased, insulted, or feeling embarrassed by some difficulty. Suggest that all people have traps that we must look out for or our reacting sides will create all sorts of trouble for us. Give examples of how this has happened in your life and perhaps famous people whose reacting side stories have made headlines. Once you generalize the discussion in this way, the child tends to be more open and honest about their errors.

Offer "thinking side messages" as preventive strategies. Many children don't appreciate the significance of how their thoughts fuel their actions. This internal language is often running in the background of their interactions with others, sometimes spurring them on to an impulsive response to one of their traps. Explain how the way we talk to ourselves when we are facing one of our traps sets the stage for whether the thinking side or reacting side wins the battle for control over our behavior. Emphasize the plural "we" to reduce the chances of sounding accusatory or blaming. Give examples of how if they say to themselves, "I'm going to get even with that kid," the results are going to be much different than if they say to themselves, "I'm not going to take the bait from that kid." These brief, pointed mental scripts help decrease the intensity of the reacting side fires. Internal statements such as "I can't always get it right," or "I shouldn't take it personally," may help them avoid other potential traps.

The prevention of future troubles is aided by practicing and processing. Prepare your child for improved coping by speaking beforehand about what is likely to happen in a given situation. Rehearse situations so they can practice their silent self-control strategies. Afterwards, process the child's experience by reviewing how well they coped with their trap. Reassure them that it requires a lot of practice for all of us to use our thinking side when our traps are tempting us. Adults already know that it is very difficult to desensitize oneself from our issues. Children have even more trouble. It's easy for them to get caught up in unhelpful thinking and even more unhelpful reactions. Praise them for their willingness to discuss their contributions and desire to change for the better.

About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.

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APA Reference
Writer, H. (2010, May 18). How to Help Your Kid with ADHD and Learning Disabilities, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 21 from

Last Updated: July 31, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD