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Tips For Talking To Children With SLD

How you talk to your child and what to tell him/her will depend on

their age, and needs

Younger child

For a younger child it is more useful to talk in terms of the difficulty they experience (such as “you find reading difficult”) and relate it to their strengths and weaknesses (see article below), stressing that:

  • Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. You can illustrate this by being open about your own or other people you know, (for example: “you are very good at… but I find it difficult”, or “you find learning to… easy, but X has to work hard at it, for you it is reading that you have to work hard at”)

  • Many other children find learning to read (or write, or maths…) difficult but they can learn with help

  • Telling them that knowing their strengths and weaknesses will help you and the teacher help them to learn (this can also be used to explain the need for an assessment)

Older child

  • Older students may find that having a label, such as “Dyslexia” helps them to relativise and understand their difficulties, and is “shorthand” to explain it to others.

See also “8 Tips for introducing Dyslexia to your child”

Talking to children about their strengths and weaknesses

by Dr Mel Levine

“I must be stupid”
“I was born to lose”
“I don’t have the brains to right rite”
“No matter what I do, I disappoint my parents”

These statements accompany the sighs of children who misunderstand themselves. They are students with differences in learning that are causing them to underachieve and lose motivation. They have little or no understanding of why and how they are having to contend with the humiliation of failure in school. The thoughts such students harbor about their own minds are more pessimistic than they need to be. They may not admit to “feeling dumb,” but they frequently conceal within themselves such beliefs. These gloomy sentiments commonly lead to a deteriorating attitude toward school, defiant behaviour, depression, and plummeting self-esteem. The cycle must be broken. Demystification is a process that can be used to prevent or treat children’s dangerous self-misunderstandings.

Demystification educates children about their own strengths and weaknesses. It helps them to see the relationship between their areas of weak function and problems they are having in school. Demystification sessions are conducted by a clinician or an educator. It is helpful if the parents are present, so that they can continue to reinforce the same terminology and point of view with the child at home. The following are some salient points about the crucial process of demystification, which can help children to help themselves overcome school problems:

  • Begin by helping a child understand his strengths. This should never be conveyed through false praise (the ultimate put-down). Instead children need to be made aware of all the things they do very well.

  • Provide children with specific vocabulary for their problems (e.g., “You have what we call a word finding problem that makes it hard for you to answer questions in class”). It is hard for an individual to work on improving something if she doesn’t know what to call it!

  • Number the weak areas for the child (e.g., “There are four things that you need to work on making stronger…”). This way, the child doesn’t come to feel totally defective or mentally retarded (a very common fear or fantasy); instead he has four areas that need improvement in order to do better in school.

  • Use analogies or visual diagrams to illustrate areas of function that need work. For example, we have developed The Concentration Cockpit (published by Educators Publishing Company, Cambridge, Massachusetts) to help children understand their attentional difficulties.

  • Create optimism by revealing the possibilities for great success as an adult given the strengths that the child now displays.

  • Preserve accountability. A student should not come away feeling that she can “cop out” of work or responsibility because of a dysfunction. Rather, children must realize that now that they understand themselves better, they are accountable for working hard to overcome the effects of their problems.

  • Vary the demystification process depending on the age of the child. It is possible to demystify a 6 or 7 year old using examples, analogies, animal stories, and pictures. (e.g., “You know, your mind is just like a television set. But it has problems with the channel selector–it changes programs too often.”) Early adolescents (especially 8th graders) are often the hardest to work with. They want so desperately to be like everyone else that they hate to learn of their differences. They require great patience, persistence, and empathy on the part of the demystifier. High School students thrive on demystification increasingly as they progress through school. They need ample opportunity to ask questions and offer their own personal insights.

  • Inform teachers of what a child has been told. It can be seriously confusing to a student if the school has an interpretation that contradicts what the child and the parents believe.


With a clear understanding of weaknesses and strengths, it is truly remarkable to observe how well a student can help themselves. It is equally gratifying to observe the restoration of motivation and aspiration that occurs when a young person is helped to see possibilities for authentic success in life.

From Parent Journal, Autumn 1996


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