In the beginning, there was the letter “A”

Many moons ago I did what most parents do. I made the choice to start teaching my daughter how to write. I was very excited. I had found this little table and chair set at a yard sale and I had purchased these fancy little pencils with pink and red hearts on them.  I had even lined the paper so it had bold lines for my daughter’s first letters.  I wanted her to feel like I had put some effort into it (too much Mommy pride). See example:

________ 

– – – – – – – – –

________

(Just imagine this with a fantastic letter “A” in the center!)

It was a Saturday afternoon. I never remember what the weather was like. I know the sun was coming through the windows when we started. My daughter had on this red corduroy overall suit with tiny little flowers and a yellow shirt. Her hair was in these rather cute ponytails with balls on the ends.

I grabbed a piece of paper and I wrote a large letter “A” in the center of one of my homemade lines. Kneeling next to my daughter I placed the paper in front of her and said, “We are going to write your name. This is how you write the letter A.” I then showed her how to make the letter using her own hand.

To my utter shock and eventual horror, my daughter began to cry. She pushed the pencil away and tried to get out of her seat. Tears immediately streamed down her little puffy cheeks, her breaths were heaving in and out, and her anger was spiraling out of control.  It was just the letter “A”! I was not making her eat some exotic, creepy looking vegetable. I was not even threatening to take her favorite toy away. It was just the letter “A”.

But, when my daughter reached out and nearly hit me in the face, I had to take a deep breath and give us both a break. I honestly admit that I was heart broken and felt ill-used. I cried. I pouted and I asked myself how I messed up this supposedly fun experience for the both of us. Being a parent is not easy, but failing at the letter “A” is devastating. In that state of mind, it was clear that I was not going to be able to solve our problem that day. I gave in, but I told my kiddo that we were going to start again the next day.

It would take another 2 and a ½ weeks, lots of frustration and a great deal of back and forth before my daughter would write her name for the first time. For the effort she put in, the results were almost circular on the page, as she could not write in a straight line.  In those two weeks I lost more often then I won.

I share this experience, not because every child with a learning disability has these types of struggles. I say it to express how these types of issues can manifest in behavior. My daughter is a sweet, wonderful, talented, and bright young lady. As a child she was polite, calm, and good-nature. She was the kind of kid that was continually laughing…until I placed a pencil in her hand and watched her become a difficult, angry, and aggressive terrorist.

While I like to believe that I do not have to negotiate with terrorists, I had to make a choice. I was either going to negotiate with this terrorist (who happened to be my daughter) or I was going to break her in an effort to teach her this basic and vital skill.

Fortunately for us something happened after that time. We found a compromise. I can’t tell you how that compromise came about. And the honest truth is that a compromise with one kid with an LD may not work for another kid with an LD. I do recall that it was the result of quick thinking. This compromise helped me to see that my daughter was not the terrorist I thought she was and it showed my daughter that I was not the mean person I seemed to be those first two weeks.

The compromise also helped me to see that I was a good teacher for my daughter. This is not always the case. Many parents are unable to teach their own children (I had this struggle with my son – I will share more about that experience at a later date). The things that make a parent and a child alike are often the very things that make them incompatible as learning partners. My daughter and I, while very similar, had the capability to become partners in her learning and our first step towards building a solid partnership came during that compromise.

If you are a parent facing this issue, my first suggestion is to take a deep breath. Remind yourself that writing is a skill and you are not bad for wanting your child to write. Ask yourself if you are the right person to teach your child. This is vital. Your child can learn to love learning or they can learn to hate it, but it begins with a teacher who is stern when they need to be, supportive because they have to be, and easy when it is the right thing to do. If you fear that your frustrations are going to be too difficult for you to control, then you are not the right teacher for your child. Coping with an LD and teaching another to cope with an LD is not simple, easy, or light work. It requires dedication, the ability to work through the tears and a resilience of mind. If I was willing to give up or give in every time my daughter fought me on a lesson, then I was not going to be the right teacher for her.

Once you figure out if you are in fact the right teacher for your child, then I suggest the following:

  1. Take it slow: nothing happens over night. Your child will forget more often then they remember, so give it time.
  2. Use appropriate expectations: Appropriate does not mean low. Set high and quality standards. Work towards those standards in a time period that works with your child’s disabilities. If your child’s attention span is only 15 minutes then do not expect them to be able to accomplish an hours worth of work. As you work within that 15-minute time frame, look for creative ways to stretch that to 20 minutes, then 30 minutes and so forth.
  3. Get Creative: Most children do not learn the same – even though most adults need the same skills to be successful. Search for ways to teach those skills using as many creative methods as you can find.
  4. Great effort requires great rewards: Celebrate the simple. Make a big deal of those milestones. Your child is working overtime to learn – show you appreciate it.
  5. Thank Yourself – Take parenting breaks. Give yourself space and time. The more refreshed you are, the better teacher you will be. But treat yourself as you treat your child – you deserve it.

Until next time.

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