Homework Help: 5 Ways to Motivate Kids with Learning Disabilities

pencil
Image via Katie Hurley

The beginning of the school year is often full of excitement, and kids appear motivated to learn. They come home with complicated descriptions of interesting lessons taught in their favorite subjects. They take a break, eat a snack, and then begin their homework.

Ok, maybe it’s not always that seamless, but for a while, there tends to be a “honeymoon” period when kids are enjoying a new classroom and fatigue has yet to set in. 

As kids settle in, and the academics become more difficult, many kids begin to experience difficulty with motivation. And while motivation can be an obstacle for any young learner, it can be particularly difficult for children with learning disabilities. 

When children struggle to learn, they are up against much more than the words on the page. They might struggle with anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of depression, and/or increased frustration. Checking out and avoiding the workload are natural defense mechanisms. 

Lainie S. Donnell, M.A., ET/P, Educational Therapist and President of the International Dyslexia Association, Los Angeles Branch (IDALA), suggests that a team approach benefits children with learning disabilities. “If your child sees that there is a team in place that’s working toward a common goal, it can feel very reassuring. They find it find comforting to know that everyone has a sense of their learning style and understands that it is not a lack of intellect that is getting in the way of homework success.”

In fact, there are a number of things parents can do help kids stay motivated when school becomes difficult.

5 ways to motivate kids with learning disabilities:

Image via Flickr/spiritinme
Image via Flickr/spiritinme

Create a supportive home environment:

The truth is that school can be very stressful when a child is struggling to learn. Even with modifications in place, kids can experience anxiety and frustration throughout the school day. More often than not, they bring that stress home with them.

Creating a supportive environment at home is an essential component of helping your child stay motivated. Kids need to know that their parents are behind them, no matter what challenges exist along the way.

Be prepared to be on the front line of frustration. Many kids wait until they get home to express their true feelings about school and homework. “Kids who are struggling can become quite good at keeping it together while at school and can lose it when they get home,” Donnell warns. Don’t take it personally. Allow your child to vent his frustration first, and then find a way to relax before you move on. 

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Image via Flickr/the Italian Voice
Image via Flickr/the Italian Voice

List it:

Some teachers ask kids to copy down homework assignments in a journal. Others use a website or some other online tool and provide a checklist for students. No matter how homework is given, it’s best to have one list for homework assignments.  “Centralize the list; don’t have multiple places to refer to,” Donnell says. “This will help to focus attention on the tasks at hand! There is nothing like the feeling of actually putting Sharpie-to-paper and physically crossing off a completed homework assignment! I like to use the 4 x 6, lined, Super-Sticky Post-It® notes.”

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Image via Flickr/Lyn Lomasi

Create a homework center:

Consistency is crucial when it comes to motivating kids to get their work done. Create a specific homework space in your home. Try to avoid places of comfort, like the bed or a couch, where your child usually cuddles up to relax. You want to have a separate space that’s only used for homework.

“Pick a place that has an open and clear work space that is consistently equipped with blue, black, and colored pens, pencils, ruler, white-out tape, paper clips, 3-whole punch, stapler, and other necessary supplies,” suggests Donnell.  “Once a week, if not more, spend some time with your student helping them to unclutter the space.”

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Image via Flickr/woodleywonderworks

Try homework blocks:

The last thing most kids want to do after a long school day is sit down and do more work. They need a break. Consider breaking down the assignments into manageable tasks with breaks in between.

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A clear, defined schedule always works, and don’t forget to schedule in break times, snack times, and fun time, too.

“I work with my students to set up a daily after-school schedule,” explains Donnell.  “A clear, defined schedule always works, and don’t forget to schedule in break times, snack times, and fun time, too.”

Bonus tip: Let your child help create that schedule. A little bit of control can go a long way toward feeling motivated.

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Image via Flickr/flikingerbrad

Enlist support:

All kids are different, with or without learning disabilities, and some kids need more support than others along the way. Homework should not be a battle that affects the whole family. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Donnell advises checking in with the teacher if your child is struggling. “If your child is spending too much time on homework, talk to the teacher about expectations. How much time does the teacher think the homework should take? Stop your child at the end of that allotted time period, then draw a line or place-marker. By doing this, the teacher has an accurate read as to how much work was accomplished for a given amount of time.”

Donnell also suggests finding homework buddies at the beginning of the school year. “Get the phone numbers and email addresses from three fellow students at the beginning of the year. Homework buddies can be a lifesaver!”

Tutoring, counseling, and extra help at school are all good options for children with learning disabilities. It takes a team to help a child through the challenges of learning, but with the right support in place, children can really thrive.

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Homework Help: 5 Ways to Motivate Kids with Learning Disabilities

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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