by Kerry Yonushonis, LCSW
It’s that time of year when swim team ends, school supplies are flying off the shelves, and peaceful vacations are in the rearview mirror. School is approaching fast; younger children hope to have friends in their classes, while the older students are excited to be around their peers and away from their parents. But for our children with dyslexia, the return to school can be all the above… with a hefty serving of anxiety on the side.
Some of you may be new to the dyslexia journey and think that you have it all figured out since the time your child was diagnosed last year. For those parents many years on into this diagnosis, you realize this isn’t a sprint or a marathon, but a long journey. The tricky thing with having a child with dyslexia is JUST when you think you have it figured out (the school districts, accommodations, etc.), then life changes! Our kids’ age, hormones hit, and what you thought you knew- has shifted, and your foundation can feel cracked. You know that anxiety; imagine how it must be for your teen! They don’t have a guidebook to get through this, so they desperately need YOU to be their guide. This means being one step ahead and able to help them understand their anxiety.
Many parents don’t have the right tools to help their dyslexic children through their anxiety. They try their best but end up doing all the wrong things. For example, one of the common mistakes parents make is trying to rescue their children from BIG emotions. Saying things like “It won’t be that bad” or “you probably just misunderstood them” devalues your child’s feelings and doesn’t help them learn to maneuver THROUGH them. So, I developed a toolbox to help parents be more effective when guiding their children through big emotions. Because let’s face it, when our kids are anxious, we often become tense and cannot always think at the moment.
Knowing the 5 D’s – for Dyslexia Anxiety will help YOU better parent-when things turn sideways, and you are a bit frozen. If you cannot remember them, print them off and put it on the mirror, or in your wallet for easy access 😊
The 5 D’s for Dyslexia Parenting
1) Discuss, don’t diminish
Save space for your child to share their narrative. Don’t try to jump in and solve, but listen and help them name their feelings. “Oh, you must have felt so frustrated”, or “I can tell that made you really deflated” are examples of things you can say to help them understand their emotions. Avoid “It couldn’t have been that bad” or “You seem pretty dramatic/exaggerated’. While parents use these types of statements to try to ground their child/teen, they are just devaluing their experiences.
2) Don’t Doubt your instincts
Sometimes our children feel shame and don’t want to share embarrassing moments. Shame keeps our kids stuck in a bubble alone, trying to process big feelings. If you feel like your child is too embarrassed to talk about something terrible that happened, see if there is another trusted person they can speak to (a relative, neighbor, therapist, or even in a journal). Also, feel free to share some stories from your childhood where you felt a similar emotion—our children, and YES, especially our teens, like to hear that we also had struggles. With mental health issues and suicide on the rise, it is more important than ever to keep the conversations going.
3) I-Dentify signs of building anxiety
Ok, so this one may not technically start with a D, but I am dyslexic so give me a free pass 😊 When working with clients with anxiety, my first question is, “Where in your body do you feel this”? Often, we miss the beginning cues and alerts our body sends when nervousness hits. Help your child better understand where they carry this stress in their body. It could be their neck, stomach, throat tightening, headaches, etc. This can help them catch it earlier and use calming skills to reduce it faster.
It is empowering for our children to understand that they have some control over their anxiety. Practice calming and grounding skills with your child when they are NOT anxious. That way, when they are nervous, they will already have some experience using this. I created a guide to awaken our sensory systems and use our senses to “get out of our heads and back into our bodies.” This free guide is available by clicking this link https://resources.kerryoncoaching.com/grounding-guide-for-dyslexia
An example of one of these skills is the 5-4-3-2-1 Method.
When your child feels anxious, have them find:
5- things they can SEE that are blue
4- textures that they can FEEL
3- things they can HEAR (car horn, refrigerator hum, etc.).
2- things they can SMELL (flower, candle, cat litter box, or someone’s stinky feet)
1- things they can TASTE (the last thing they ate that they loved)
5) Discover their Island of Expertise
Our kids are so bright that, unfortunately, they are acutely aware of their deficiencies. They may be less aware of their passions. When they spend so much time dedicated to tutoring and schoolwork, it is essential to take time to find something they are over the moon about! This could be marine science, watches, cars, rugby, model airplanes, art, etc. You want to help your child find that one thing they love SO much that they soak it up and are the “expert in the room” on that topic. For example, if your child is into marine biology, see if you can sign them up for a summer program at the aquarium, go to the library and get easy-to-read books with fantastic imagery, like coffee table books, or dedicate time to watch Nat Geo to help them build their knowledge. Most importantly, whatever their passion is, you as a parent must also be excited to hear about it!
As we begin diving into the new school year, keep your anxiety in check. Do you have a support network of other parents whose children learn differently? Who can you speak to when you feel stressed? Have you developed any unhealthy habits to deal with your stress? Our children will pick up on it, so you might also want to try relaxation techniques from the Grounding Guide. (https://resources.kerryoncoaching.com/grounding-guide-for-dyslexia ).
Kerry Yonushonis, LCSW
Parenting Coach for Dyslexia
Kerry has been a mental health therapist for 18 years and a parenting coach for dyslexic families. Kerry and her teenage son have dyslexia and advocate using their “islands of expertise,” which is marathon swimming. #SwimForDyslexia. For more information, please visit her website at https://kerryoncoaching.com/. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram at @kerryoncoaching_dyslexia