Teaching Children With Learning Disabilities to Persevere

18 Oct 2021

“For a righteous man can fall seven times and rise…” (Proverbs, 24:16)

Teaching all kids to persevere and keep trying aids them in all areas of life. However, the ability to keep trying when we don’t initially succeed is a must for children who struggle in school.

We all know stories of successful people who failed many times before attaining their goals. Falling and getting up, making mistakes and using them as opportunities are essential parts of learning how to cope, grow and finally succeed.

Students with disabilities often need accommodations and extra support. However, this does not mean that they cannot work hard and push through their challenges. Everyone, including children with disabilities, needs to know that to achieve expertise in any area, it takes many little steps and a lot of practice.

Parents – and even educators – may have a hard time balancing the support and special accommodations that children with disabilities need, while also encouraging children to persevere through their learning difficulties.

Here are seven ideas that can help:

1. Life Success vs. Academic Success:

I have said this many times, but it bears repeating: A person’s success in life is not determined by his school grades. There are so many people that I personally know who were awful at school and are beloved to their family, have great jobs and are an asset to their community. A person’s success is generally determined by healthy sense of self, an ability to be a team player, people skills, and finally, the determination to persevere despite the many challenges that they may encounter.

Once we understand this, we may feel less stress about our child’s academic performance. When that pressure is released, we can handle their issues calmly and kindly. We will then be better able to:

2. Help Children Manage Their Frustration:

When children feel challenged by their schoolwork, they may cry, tantrum, throw up their hands in defeat or avoid their homework by busying themselves with other activities. It is at this time that we can use the following phrases:

“These problems are really frustrating, aren’t they? Try to slow down and let’s see where you got off-track.”

“If you already knew how to do everything, then you wouldn’t need to be in school. This one is a hard one. It may take a few tries to figure it out.”

“Eli, it looks like the part of you that wants things to be easy is fighting the part of you that knows what it takes to learn new things. Try to hold on to that new learning mindset here.”

“Kayla, you are having trouble with homework. Remember, when you are feeling frustrated with a task, you need to remind yourself that this is all about learning. It is hard, but it is not impossible.”

“Benny, you are getting a bit irritable with me over this homework assignment. What do you need to get back into the right frame of mind? Do you think you need help with the work now or time to calm down?”

These phrases give us the scripts we need to let children know that they can handle the frustration that may come along with their academic work. 

3. Help Promote a Problem-Solving Mindset:

Children with disabilities need an extra dose of problem-solving abilities. Oftentimes, children with disabilities are known for their imagination and innovation because they need to be creative to get through school. We can encourage this by using the following phrases:

“You might figure out math problems a bit differently, but that isn’t bad.”

“Your brain may work differently than other people. That can be a good thing. You can figure this out.”

“I have seen you do hard things. I know you can do this. Let’s take our time and figure out some ways to do this.”

4. Move Them Through Their Mistakes:

 We often tell children that it’s okay for them to make mistakes as long as they learn from them. However, we need to take this one step further. We can help children analyze and reflect on their mistakes. 

“Let’s review this paper and see if we can come up with some ideas on how to improve it.”

“What was difficult for you?”

“Where do you think you got stuck?”

“What do you think would help you understand the material better?”

“What can I do to help you?”

“What can you do to help yourself?”

“What might you need some support with?”

“What is getting in the way of your learning?”

“What do you need?”

5. Transfer Responsibility for Their Learning to Them:

To help children take responsibility for their schoolwork, we can use the following questions/observations below as conversation starters:

“What works for you?”

“What strategy did you use that helped?”

“Do you think you can use this in other areas where you are struggling?”

“When things felt overwhelming to you, you took a break. That was letting your mind breathe. You feel that strategy worked for you…”

This can empower children. They learn the strategies that work for them and can start to use them independently.

6. Use Humor

Often children with disabilities are sensitive about their learning weaknesses. The fact is, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Part of encouraging children is to talk about other people’s challenges in humorous and gentle ways.

For example, most families have things that everybody knows and makes fun of – usually in a good-natured way. Maybe Grandpa’s clothes never match because he’s color-blind. There is always that family member who misplaces their keys. I am forever mixing up dates, and the activities I plan for vacations somehow always tank. I have a friend who does math using her fingers and my sibling talks out loud to help her remember the steps to a recipe.

This reminds children that it’s okay – and even sweet – to have these quirks. It can make them even more lovable.

7. Give Examples of How You Compensate for Your Weaknesses:

It is also helpful to let children know how you or other people you know overcome their weaknesses. Here are some examples:

“I have such trouble remembering where I put my things. I used to lose everything. Now I put my keys on the hook by the door right when I come in. I put my purse right underneath the hook, as well. That strategy has helped.”

“It is challenging for me to do simple everyday math in my head. I keep a calculator in my purse at all times.”

“I used to have trouble organizing my schedule, now every appointment I have goes in my smartphone’s calendar. I also set up an alert to remind me about it.”

Helping children with learning disabilities persevere through their challenges can work wonders. It can give them the tools they need to succeed, not just in school, but in life.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.