Encouragement, Special Learners

How Do I Teach My Struggling Student If I’m Struggling, Too?

7 Tips to Enhancing the Journey and the Results

by Jill Stowell

Christine was very committed to homeschooling. Not only because her seven children were dyslexic, but because she really believed in homeschooling. When I met her, her kids ranged in age from 6 to 15 years old. I thought she was doing an amazing job, but as I got to know her, she shared that she often felt inadequate in her role as home teacher because she, too, was dyslexic.

Whether you are struggling with learning or attention challenges yourself, or you’re feeling overwhelmed with the role of home teacher that you’ve suddenly been thrust into, you are in a unique position to understand your child’s struggles from the inside out.

#1 Explore Strengths and Challenges
Children and teens who have learning or attention challenges often feel like they are not smart and not capable. They feel like they are always “messing up” and letting everybody down. You probably understand that. In fact, most parents do, because kids don’t come with instruction sheets and we make a lot of mistakes along the way. This is a great opportunity for you to sit down together and explore the fact that everybody has things that they are really good at and things that are challenging.

#2 Problem Solve Together
Whatever challenges are coming up, problem-solve them together. Maybe you have trouble with time management so it’s hard to get school started on time. Maybe your child really needs to be less dependent on you when doing independent schoolwork. Together with your kids…

  • Identify and label the challenge
  • Determine some strategies to try
  • Decide on a solution and everyone commit to trying it out
  • Revisit the issue after a few days or a week to evaluate. Did it work? Do we need to modify our strategy?

You being a little vulnerable and walking through this process together helps your children feel more forgiving of themselves and builds executive function and problem-solving skills.

#3 Time Management
Individuals with ADHD often experience Time Blindness. They are controlled by whatever is happening or whatever catches their attention right now.

  • Together, create a large visual schedule for school that everyone in the family can easily see. Help each other stay accountable to follow it.
  • Use a timer or alarm to keep you and your children on target with the schedule.
  • Put many clocks in your school space to increase everyone’s awareness of time passing.

So often in school, time is dealt with only as an activity in math. Being aware of the schedule and time passing all day long is a great way to help your children develop a sense of time and time management, as well as helping you to have the structure you need to make the most out of your school time with your kids.

#4 Don’t Let Devices Control You
Email, browsing, and social media can eat up your time without you even realizing it. Your school space should be a no-phone zone for everyone! And devices should be used only as needed for lessons.

If you or your kids are easily distracted every time you get on your device – dialogue together. Label the problem. Dialogue solutions. Choose one and everyone stick to it and help each other be accountable. If it’s a big problem, keep score: If you catch your child off task on a device, you get a point and vice-versa. Kids like to catch their parents and teachers making mistakes. Even if there’s no reward connected to the contest, it helps everyone build awareness and be accountable.

#5 Use a timer for your kids who have trouble sticking with a task.
Start wherever they are – it may be five minutes – and gradually increase. When the timer goes off, celebrate; then re-set for the next five minutes. This helps your child build his ability to focus and keeps you accountable to check in regularly.

#6 Brain Break!
Recognize the limits of your/your child’s ability to concentrate before becoming unproductive. Take a brain break to re-energize thinking and focus. Bounce on a ball, stand and take a good stretch, wrestle with the dog for five minutes, have a one-minute dance party, or get up and get a drink of water. Keep it short, include movement, and don’t include screens or devices!

#7 You don’t have to be perfect.
We want our kids to feel confident and successful and look at possibilities instead of beating themselves up when they make mistakes. Do the same for yourself.

You may be very worried about your children’s education right now and afraid that you won’t do it right when it comes to supervising their virtual education or being their home teacher. Your anxiety may be interpreted by your kids – especially your teens – as disapproval of them.

The success journey is not about always doing everything right but about mindset. If you can build this mindset into your schooling it will be a great gift for you and for your kids.


Jill Stowell, M.S.
Founder/Executive Director, Stowell Learning Centers
#1 Bestselling Author: At Wit’s End A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle, Tears, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities