Email: What to do with a struggling daughter


I get lots of questions about kids with learning disabilities and language processing disorders. While it’s important to get the right help for those neurological issues, you can do a lot to change the mood around learning by creating an entirely different context for education. In some cases, you’ll discover that what you thought was a learning disability was actually resistance to tedious, poorly executed lessons. You are key to creating a brand new, sparkling environment for learning. My answer to Lisa follows her note to me.

Hi Julie,

I came across your site through a home school message board. My daughter is in 7th grade and is new to homeschooling as of last month. She has some pretty significant learning issues with dyslexia and she literally can barely write a sentence. But… she has a very high IQ and is very creative and can learn very quickly when she wants to. On top of the learning issues she has a severe mood disorder and EXTREME anxiety. She is an absolute perfectionist with herself and this is one of her biggest obstacles. She absolutely hates reading and also refuses to use audio books. She was in private school K-4 and did ok. She transferred to a remedial school for 5th & 6th grade and this year we tried to go back to a small private school that offered support for learning issues. She had so much anxiety and went into a deep depression. As a result I decided to pull her out and try homeschooling. So… having said all this, I am struggling to find curriculum that she will enjoy and comply with. I had her journaling and doing some free style type writing but she is so hard on herself.

She cannot spell and gets so frustrated with herself. No level of support or love can help her get over this perfectionism in herself and it’s very crippling. I have spent a lot of time on your website and it looks really neat. The Arrow program looks good even though my daughter is a 7th grader since her reading level is low. I am just not sure if this program will work for her but I am very encouraged. Do you have any good results with kids with learning/mood disorders? I love the idea of the online class for the accountability but she would probably have a nervous breakdown worrying about the instructor and how “bad” she writes. Any advice you could offer would be appreciated. Thanks so much!!


Hi Lisa.

Your daughter needs some deschooling. No “school” for a little while. Give her trips to art museums, do craft projects, take up baking and sewing, sign her up for Taekwondo where she can learn to be tough and defend herself and show strength. (These are suggestions, obviously, not prescriptions.) The point, though, is that she is damaged from all the pressure of school. 7th grade is still young. Celebrate the joy of learning together. Watch “Downton Abbey” (the PBS show) and learn about war, and costumes of that era, and have tea, and discuss hierarchy and classes, and then watch everything Maggie Smith is in, and then discuss acting, and then try memorizing a speech together from a movie and acting it out.

Get OUT of the school mindset. Get into the learning one.

One of the best things I ever did with my kids was to learn about art history in front of them. I got books from the library, watched the “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting” videos (dark ages!) with my kids in the room. I dragged them with me to the art museum. I brought my own pencils and sketch book to draw what I saw and take notes. These kids became so interested in art, they’ve continued to love art museums and know famous painters and trivia about their lives.

The point is this: you have a bright, creative, energetic daughter who is damaged from school. Writing, as important as it is, must be moved away from school and back into a natural part of life. That comes from not requiring it and living it in front of her. But if she has nothing new to think about or consider, she will have nothing to write about.

Her perfectionism is her defense against judgment and failure. She’s trying really hard not to fail. So take away the “failure” by eliminating the need to perform… for a good long while.

Try poetry teatimes (these are low stress, HIGH results experiences). Go to a Shakespeare play; knit; read Harry Potter aloud; get out in nature and record the temperatures, the trees, the birds; visit the zoo; see movies in the middle of the day.

YOU read newspapers and non-fiction books about history and then talk freely about what you’re learning in her presence (not as a lecture, but in that “I was really struck by…” kind of way). Let her hear you learn. Take up some new pursuit yourself and see how you learn!

Write a Christmas letter together. Let her take the photos and lay it out and contribute her ideas. You write it. Mail it together. Have her address the envelopes (if she will). Let her type. Let her use spellcheck on the computer.


The Arrow is great, but it can feel like school to a girl like yours. So get it for you so you understand how to talk about literature naturally with her (let it teach you). Don’t force ANYTHING on her. You might even listen to a book on CD over lunches that YOU want to hear and if she listens, great. If not, that’s okay too. Get into learning and you’ll discover how to help her too.

Lastly, a cafe au lait at Barnes and Noble is a great way to shift gears. Take her OUT of the house, and share that things are changing at home, that her input matters, and that you want her to feel happy and successful and will take your cues from her… then invite her to tell you what she would LOVE to do all day long and then go DO IT!

Hope that helps!


One Response to “Email: What to do with a struggling daughter”

  1. Julie says:

    Excellent, amazing advice Julie. I will add to this by suggesting a book that changed both how I parent and supporting my perfectionist child. It is not a parenting book, but a researched initiative on dealing with perfectionism. Sadly and admittedly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and it opened my eyes to the language of perfectionism I was unwittingly thrusting on my children. MINDSET:THE NEW SECRET OF SUCCESS by Carol Dweck. She is direct and has examples of successful and unsuccessful (in the appearance of success)cultural icons, business people and celebrities as well as every day people. Do you have a fixed mindset (trait of perfectionists)or a growth mindset? The good news is that we can change our habits!

    The other book that is specific for and with parent/child interaction is WHAT TO DO WHEN GOOD ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH: THE REAL DEAL ON PERFECTIONISM:A GUIDE
    FOR KIDS by Thomas Greenspon PHD. He has a practice in the Twin Cities and I’ve heard him speak on NPR.

    Lastly, perfectionism is a common trait of gifted and talented children. Often, giftedness is mistaken as learning disabilities. You can find support for the emotional well being of your child at