It may seem like common sense that learning involves the body as well as the brain, but your child’s eating, sleep, and exercise habits may be even more important than you think. If children with learning disabilities are eating right and getting enough sleep and exercise, they will be better able to focus, concentrate, and work hard.
Exercise isn’t just good for the body, it’s good for the mind. Regular physical activity makes a huge difference in mood, energy, and mental clarity. Encourage your learning disabled child to get outside, move, and play. Rather than tiring out your child and taking away from schoolwork, regular exercise will actually help him or her stay alert and attentive throughout the day. Exercise is also a great antidote to stress and frustration.
Learning disability or not, your child is going to have trouble learning if he or she is not well rested. Kids need more sleep than adults do. On average, preschoolers need from 11-13 hours per night, middle school children need about 10-11 hours, and teens and preteens need from 8½-10 hours. You can help make sure your child is getting the sleep he or she needs by enforcing a set bedtime. The type of light emitted by electronic screens (computers, televisions, iPods and iPads, portable video players, etc.) is activating to the brain. So you can also help by powering off all electronics at least an hour or two before lights out.
A healthy, nutrient rich diet will aid your child’s growth and development. A diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein will help boost mental focus. Be sure your child starts the day with a good breakfast and doesn’t go more than 4 hours between meals or snacks. This will help keep his or her energy levels stable.
Sometimes the hardest part of parenting is remembering to take care of you. It’s easy to get caught up in what your child needs, while forgetting your own needs. But if you don’t look after yourself, you run the risk of burning out. It’s important to tend to your physical and emotional needs so that you’re in a healthy space for your child. You won’t be able to help your child if you’re stressed out, exhausted, and emotionally depleted. When you’re calm and focused, on the other hand, you’re better able to connect with your child and help him or her be calm and focused too.
Your spouse, friends, and family members can be helpful teammates if you can find a way to include them and learn to ask for help when you need it.
Some parents keep their child’s learning disability a secret, which can, even with the best intentions, look like shame or guilt. Without knowing, extended family and friends may not understand the disability or think that your child’s behavior is stemming from laziness or hyperactivity. Once they are aware of what’s going on, they can support your child’s progress.
Within the family, siblings may feel that their brother or sister with a learning disability is getting more attention, less discipline and preferential treatment. Even if your other children understand that the learning disability creates special challenges, they can easily feel jealous or neglected. Parents can help curb these feelings by reassuring all of their children that they are loved, providing homework help, and by including family members in any special routines for the child with a learning disability.