Preventing Parental Burnout: Coping Strategies for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities

Home / Campus / ( Published on 2014-08-14 )

When a child is diagnosed with learning disabilities, all of the attention is focused on helping the child. However, parents also need assistance in coping with their own feelings and frustrations.

Research has shown that parents of children with learning disabilities had very elevated scores on the Parenting Stress Index, signifying that they perceived far more stress in their role as parents than did parents of children without learning problems. By increasing coping skills, parents can reduce their own stress and can become effective in reducing stress in their children.

Internal Stress
Expectations of parents about their child lie at the root of burnout. When expectations about parenting are not met, the first thought is “What did I do wrong?” Therefore, parents must learn how to develop realistic expectations and how to recognize when negative self-talk defeats effective 

Management Strategies
Identify your own self-defeating assumptions and think of alternative messages. Be kind to yourself and accept yourself and child as fallible. Note and use personal strengths and talents.

External Stress
External stressors are those that are situational, and often involve relationships with others. For example, neighbors, friends, and relatives don’t understand why such a normal-acting child is having academic problems. Teachers frequently don’t fully understand the ramifications of a child’s problem. Parents are called upon by the school to help make decisions about the child’s academic program, but often feel helpless because of their own lack of understanding.

Management Strategies
Problem-solving techniques, time management, and goal setting are helpful when dealing with stressors associated with raising children and running a household. Since coping with a child with learning disabilities can be emotionally draining, parents also are encouraged to develop assertiveness skills, intimacy skills, and a support system.

Also know your limits and be realistic about what you can accomplish. Say no to unreasonable demands. Learn about your child’s problems and needs, so that you can be an active participant in school and resource meetings.

Physiological Stress
Parents of children with learning disabilities need to recognize that children with learning disabilities require exceptional amounts of energy. In order to replenish energy, parents need to be sure they get sufficient rest, eat well-balanced meals, and exercise regularly. Make recreation and relaxation a priority, so that you have some time off during the week. (Studies have shown that psychologically healthy families have less-than-perfect housekeeping!)

Parenting children with learning disabilities presents special challenges, not only with the child’s everyday problems, but also with the associated social and emotional problems of school failure. Better coping strategies and parent groups can provide both skill training and emotional support for parents of children with learning disabilities.

The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at UCSF provides confidential assessment, counseling, referrals, and consultation services that support the wellbeing of both the individual and the organization. For more information or to make an appointment contact us at 415/476-8279 or visit the FSAP website.


  1. Latson, S .R. Preventing Parent Burn Out: Model for Teaching Effective Coping Strategies to Parents of Children with Disabilities. Learning Disabilities Association of America Newsbrief, 1995, Volume 1-2.