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Expert advice for explaining learning differences to your children

Did you just learn your child has reading, writing or attention difficulties? Because young kids enjoy being read to--and relate very well to characters in a kid’s book--reading a children’s book is a great way to explain learning differences to your children. This helps improve their understand and reduces feelings of loneliness. 


Do use age-appropriate vocabulary

When explaining dyslexia, ADHD or other learning differences to your children, use words they understand and that are not technical. Most kids in kindergarten through second grade don’t need to hear the technical term for what’s making learning harder.

Instead, they need a simple, straightforward explanation such as, “We know you’ve been trying hard, and we learned reading is harder for you. Kids learn to read in different ways, and we figured out the best way for you to learn how to read.”  

For example, reading the Terrific Teddy Explaining Learning Differences series of children's books is a great way to explain dyslexia, reading challenges, ADHD/ ADD, and dysgraphia or writing difficulty to young children.

Do keep your explanation short

Try not to overwhelm your child with a Shakespearian-like monologue. Plan ahead by pre-reading the book and think about how your discussion will go after your read the book. Your child may have questions such as, “How do I learn to read best? Will I get a tutor?” Young children can take in limited amounts of information so have a short conversation. Understand there is time for more discussion later.

Do give your child hope for the future

Your child may be feeling discouraged, dumb or different. Help him or her understand there is hope for improvement. Kids can learn and overcome their challenges. They need to believe the steps you take will help them improve. Having hope helps give kids inner belief, which spur motivation and effort. Your children will feel relief that you recognized their struggle and will do something to help.  

Do put boundaries around your child’s weakness

Using a children’s book to explain learning differences targets the one area where your child is struggling. This is important because it helps your child know his or her entire being is not broken. The book will guide your discussion and keeps the focus on the area that needs to be improved. Reading a book helps keep the boundary on one area. 


Do not use advanced vocabulary

By using a children’s book, the vocabulary is written for children. A children’s book is the best way to explain learning differences because it uses a combination of visual pictures and vocabulary that children understand. Sometimes, parents are not sure what to say. Instead of guessing, a book provides you with the initial dialogue.

Do not tell your children they have a disease

You want your children to believe they are just like everyone else--and simply need different learning or behavior methods. Do not say, “You were afflicted with dyslexia.” Avoid saying that kids have a disability or disease and refrain from words that discourage your child’s inner beliefs.

Do not give false hope

If your child has learning differences, it takes time to see improvement. Don’t tell your child this is something you will fix in a week, month or even a summer. Simply let your child know this is something you will work on together for as long as it takes. Your children need ongoing reassurance that you love, accept and value them for the wonderful individuals they were created to be.

Do not overwhelm your child by focusing on too many areas

You may want to do everything you can to help your child overcome their learning differences, however; your child can only take so much. For example, some parents learn their child has dyslexia and immediately begin tutoring, occupational therapy, speech therapy and more. This amount of intense work overwhelms most children. Prioritize and focus on one need at time. 

Jumping cartoon

Children’s books are one of the best ways to help your child understand his or her learning challenges. In doing so, you form a team designed to help a child learn and grow--despite his or her learning differences.

More expert advice about Help Your Child Succeed Academically

Photo Credits: family, children, education, school and happy people concept - mother and daughter with book by dolgachov via BigStock; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Jim Forgan, Ph.D.School Psychologist

Jim Forgan, Ph.D., is a licensed school psychologist and professor. In his private practice he evaluates children for dyslexia; reading problems; dyscalculia (math problems); dysgraphia (writing problems); ADHD/ADD; processing problems; learning...

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