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How to help a headstrong child with a learning disability

April 19, 2023

Headstrong kids, whether they have a learning disability or not, are often described as being determined, independent, and confident.

While these are positive traits, they can sometimes create unique challenges in the face of learning disabilities. 

These children can become easily frustrated, experience anxiety or even feel like giving up when they struggle in school.

A learning disability combined with stubbornness

Headstrong kids are used to being successful in most of the things they do. They are often praised for their ability. So when they encounter difficulties in school, it can be a blow to their self-esteem. They may feel like they are failing, even if they are trying their best. They may be resistant to seeking help from others, as they are used to solving problems on their own. When they do reach out for help, they may feel embarrassed or ashamed of their difficulties.

learning disability - child frustrated over homework

Identifying the problem

Identifying the problem is the first step in helping a stubborn child with a learning disability. Observe their behaviour and academic performance to find out what might be causing their difficulties. You may need the help of a health professional, such as a paediatrician, child/adolescent psychologist or speech pathologist to properly understand the root of the problem.

Once the underlying issue has been identified, you’ll need an individualised plan that factors in the child’s strengths and weaknesses (you can create such a plan based on the suggestions in this post). Making the plan work will likely involve accommodations in the classroom, or maybe additional support services outside of school. Make sure you communicate with anyone involved in educating your child to make sure progress is happening and adjustments are being made as needed.

In addition to addressing a specific learning disability, there may be behavioral issues that contribute to your child’s academic struggles. For example, issues such as anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can impact a child’s ability to learn effectively. By taking these steps early on, parents and educators can help set children up for success both academically and socially, as well as helping them understand how to avoid getting frustrated about their challenges.

So what can we do to help them learn better when they encounter learning difficulties?

Normalise struggling for a child with a learning disability

Headstrong kids need to understand that struggling is a normal part of the learning process. Explain to them that everyone struggles at times, and that it is okay to ask for help. To a degree, struggling is a natural part of the learning process. As parents, it is important to help our children understand that it is okay to make mistakes, and adopting a growth mindset is very important. For stubborn children with learning problems, this can be an extra challenge as they may feel discouraged or frustrated when they don’t understand something right away. Encourage your child to ask for help when they need it and praise them for their efforts even if they don’t get things right the first time.

learning disability -Normalise struggling

One way to normalise struggling is by sharing personal stories of times when you struggled with something and how you overcame it. This will help your child see that everyone goes through challenges and that they are not alone in their struggle.

If your child is older, such as in the teenage years, parents can even consider seeking out mentors or role models who have similar challenges but have found ways to overcome them successfully. This could be a family member or friend who has struggled with dyslexia, ADHD, or other learning disorders but has managed to succeed academically and professionally. Their success stories can serve as inspiration for those struggling with similar difficulties and help them realise that their challenges do not define their potential for success in life. 

It’s also important to focus on progress rather than perfection. Help your child set small achievable goals and celebrate each accomplishment along the way. This will give them a sense of pride in their progress and motivate them to keep trying even when things get tough. Remember, learning is a journey, not a destination, so embrace the struggles as an opportunity for growth and development.

Break tasks into smaller steps

When a headstrong child with a learning disability encounters a difficult task, they may feel overwhelmed and want to give up. Breaking the task into smaller, more manageable steps can help them feel more in control and less overwhelmed, allowing the child to focus on one small step at a time. By breaking the task down into smaller steps, you can also provide positive reinforcement for each completed step, which can help boost your child’s confidence and motivation.

When breaking down tasks for your child, it is important to be specific about what is expected of them in each step. For example, if they are struggling to complete their homework, break it down into sections such as reading comprehension or math problems.

Let’s say your child has a reading assignment for their English class. You could break down the task into the following steps:

  1. Ask your child to read the assignment instructions carefully to understand what is expected, and then ask them to tell you what they need to do for the assignment.
  2. Choose a quiet, distraction-free place for them to read.
  3. Ask your child to read the assigned text slowly and carefully, but let them know it’s OK to take breaks if needed.
  4. Tell them while reading, they should underline or highlight important information or quotes.
  5. Tell them to take notes on the main ideas, characters, or plot points.
  6. Let them know you’re available to answer any questions or complete any assignments related to the reading (once they’ve finished reading).
  7. Have your child complete whatever worksheet, question sheet or essay is required for the reading assignment.
  8. Tell them to proofread their own work before submitting.

Offer praise for their accomplishments along the way. With patience and perseverance, even the most stubborn of children with learning difficulties can overcome obstacles and achieve success.

Encourage kids with a learning disability to ask for help

Headstrong kids may feel reluctant to ask for help, so it is important to encourage them to do so. Let them know that asking for help is a sign of strength and that everyone needs help sometimes.

learning disability - Encourage them to ask for help

As a parent or teacher, it’s crucial to create an environment where it’s safe for kids to ask questions and express their concerns without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. Encourage them to seek guidance from you, their teachers or their tutors. By acknowledging their struggles and seeking support, kids will develop resilience and become better equipped to tackle future challenges. They won’t feel helpless or alone.

Provide positive reinforcement

When headstrong kids encounter a difficult task, provide positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement involves acknowledging and rewarding good behavior or accomplishments rather than focusing on negative behavior or mistakes. This approach can be particularly effective for children who may feel discouraged by their struggles with learning. It’s not about telling kids they’ve done a great job when they haven’t, it’s about focusing on the positive aspects of what they’ve done.

Social anxiety vs autism - psychologist diagnosing a woman with autism

In practice, this mean parents can praise their child for their effort and improvement, not just their performance or the end result. Acknowledge when your child puts in hard work and shows improvement, even if they don’t get everything right the first time around. By doing this, you’ll help build their confidence and motivation to continue working towards their goals. 

It’s important to personalise the positive reinforcement in a way that works for your child. This could mean offering praise, creating a reward system, or using tangible rewards like stickers or small treats. The key is to make sure the reward is meaningful and motivating for your child.

Provide regular breaks

Headstrong kids may become easily frustrated or overwhelmed when they encounter difficult tasks. On top of that, children with learning problems often face a lot of frustration. A child who is both headstrong and has learning challenges is bound to feel frustrated at some point.

Providing regular breaks can help them stay focused and feel less overwhelmed. Regular breaks help the child relax, recharge their energy, and come back to their task with renewed focus.

Parents or teachers can implement a system where children get short breaks after completing specific tasks. For example, for every 20 minutes of work completed, the child gets five minutes of break time. During this time, encourage the child to do something they enjoy like listening to music or playing a simple game.

Breaks can be productive – encourage children during break time by asking questions about what they’ve learned so far or discussing how they plan on tackling the next task. This will keep them motivated and help them stay on track when they resume work after their break. 

Use real-world examples

Headstrong kids often respond well to real-world examples. Use examples from their daily lives to help them understand difficult concepts.

For instance, a child who struggles with maths may benefit from real-life applications of mathematical concepts. You can use everyday situations as an opportunity to introduce and reinforce maths skills. For example, ask the child to count money or measure ingredients while cooking together. This helps them understand why they need to learn these concepts in the first place.

Use technology to help a learning disability

Using technology as a learning tool can help stubborn kids. Many children today are tech-savvy and enjoy playing video games or using educational apps on tablets or smartphones. These tools can be used to create fun and engaging learning experiences for children with learning problems. Some apps even offer personalised feedback and progress tracking, which can boost a child’s confidence and motivation.

Fast ForWord Programs

Sonic Learning offer handpicked online learning programs. Our online programs adapt to your child to keep them motivated – never too difficult, never too easy. Our programs are designed to improve:

Leverage your child’s strength to succeed

Ultimately, teaching headstrong kids about the importance of perseverance and growth mindset will not only help them succeed academically but also prepare them for life beyond the classroom. Remember to be patient and understanding throughout this process – it may take time for these children to open up about their struggles, but with your guidance, they can learn valuable lessons that will benefit them throughout their lives.

If you’re concerned that your child is falling behind, book a free phone consultation with one of our health or education professionals, or complete our free online screening assessment to identify your child’s learning strengths and weaknesses.

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