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Even though your child realizes it’s harder for him to concentrate and focus in school than his classmates, or is aware that she has more trouble reading than her older brother, being diagnosed as learning disabled is still hard news to swallow.

As a parent, being told that your child is LD elicits a lot of strong feelings. Remember, it does for your child too. As your family starts to navigate the world of LD, it’s really important to tune in and listen to their fears and worries.

Kids believe that being learning disabled means they’re deficient or defective in some way, or that they’re dumb. They’re anxious that being learning challenged means they’ll never catch up in class, they’ll always have to work ten times harder at school than their friends or that everyone will know they’re LD when they’re pulled out of class for tutoring.

Rest assured that there are many who have traveled down this path before you and there are lots of resources and guidance available. Helping you help your child express their feelings in a constructive way is the priority. Here are several suggestions on how to start that process:

  • First and foremost make certain she knows you accept and love her as she is
  • It’s not his (or your) job to “cure” his learning disability. Assure him that you, his teachers and practitioners will be there to support him and provide tools to understand and tackle his challenges
  • Let her know that it’s okay to progress at her own rate. Everyone learns differently and there is no “right” or “wrong” way
  • Help him keep things in perspective. Explain that everyone faces difficulties and, in the process of dealing with them, learn a lot about themselves. (Let him know about the ways you’ve done that in your life.)
  • Assure her that grades aren’t the only (or best) way to measure learning and if’s okay for her to progress at her own rate
  • He’s going to follow your lead. If you approach learning challenges with a sense of humor, hard work, and are not afraid to seek help, he’s much more likely to do the same

A kids’ success is defined by much more than getting all A’s in school, ace-ing the SAT’s, and attending a top college. Developing a positive sense of himself, learning how to build supportive and healthy relationships, being willing to persist when things are difficult, and being able to ask for help when he needs it are qualities that are just as important for growing up to be a happy human with a fulfilling life.

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Dear Cathi-
My mother recently passed away after several months of decline from an illness. My five-year-old, Max, was upset that I was spending so much time at grandma’s because she was sick. One day he said, “I wish grandma would just go away so you could be home with me more!” Several weeks later she died. He’s distraught because he thinks it’s his fault. How can I explain to him and reassure him that it’s not?”

-A grieving daughter and concerned mom

Magical thinking comes from a young child’s naturally egocentric view of the world. At five, children believe that what they feel is what everyone else around them is feeling too. So, if your child is comforted by his stuffed animal when he’s upset, he may bring you his stuffed animal when you feel bad. Magical thinking makes your son omnipotent. If he really wants a puppy and one appears then he believes he made it happen. If he wants grandma to go away and she does, he believes he made it so.

Magical thinking figures into young kids’ pretend play —for toddlers and preschoolers the ability to make fantastical beings come to life and bad people disappear feels real. Even though they’re very perceptive—experts at seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking, they don’t yet know how to reflect and discern what’s real from what’s make-believe.

The magical thinking phase of child development is normal and mostly delightful to witness. There’s nothing better than sipping tea at a fairy’s tea party or listening to stuffed animals talk and sing. Truthfully, it’s bittersweet when their wholehearted belief in the imaginary starts to fade at age six or seven.

The problem arises when something bad or traumatic happens, like your mother’s death, and your son believes he’s responsible. At this age his concept of reality is still mixed with magical thinking, so he may be convinced that something he said or did caused her to get sick and die.

As you and your family work through this loss, here are some things to notice with Max:
-He may express his grief feelings through play instead of verbally
-He may express worry that other people he loves (including you) will die
-He may regress and need more nurturing and attention

While you can explain to him that grandma died because her body was sick, it will take time for him to comprehend. Keep reassuring him that it’s not his fault and that you love him no matter what. Don’t hide your own feelings of grief. If you do, you’re sending him the message that these sad feelings are not OK. If you’re confused and worried about the best way to grapple with this, a grief therapist can help.

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