Many children with learning disabilities do not develop low self-esteem, and many of those who do experience low self-esteem as a child or adolescent, are able to persevere and find success as an adult. These successful individuals are found to be aware of their learning disability but not defined by it, proactive in seeking support, able to set clear goals, capable of learning how to cope with frustration, able to show perseverance, and are flexible when approaching obstacles and problems. They also often show strength in a skill outside of the academic area in which they struggle.
There are many ways that parents can help to develop positive feelings of self-esteem in their children:
- Help your child feel special and appreciated. One of the main factors shown to contribute to a child becoming resilient is the presence of at least one adult who helps the child feel special and appreciated. Spending one-on-one time with a child each week helps them feel loved and gives them an opportunity to relax and display their strengths.
- Help your child to develop problem-solving and decision-making skills. High self-esteem is associated with strong problem-solving skills. We often give children the solutions in an attempt to help them. However, it is important to show children how to solve problems by modelling and role playing the process of problem solving and by giving them the opportunity to come up with different solutions to fix difficult situations they may face.
- Avoid comments that are judgmental. Children are more likely to take on suggestions if they are cast as strategies that must be changed rather than as something wrong with their motivation. For example “We need to work out better strategies to help you learn” rather than “You have to try harder”.
- Be an empathetic parent. See the world through your child’s eyes. If your child is having difficulty with learning, it is best to show that you know they are having difficulty, to cast the difficulty into a problem to be solved and to work together to think about possible solutions.
- Provide choices for your child. Providing choices minimises the possibility of conflict but also gives your child a sense of control over their own life when for much of the time they may feel they have little control.
- Do not compare to siblings. It is important not to compare siblings but rather to highlight the individual strengths of each member of the family.
- Highlight your child’s strengths. Often children with a learning disability view themselves in a negative way, particularly in relation to school. Making a list of your child’s areas of strength and finding ways to reinforce and acknowledge them is important. A sense of accomplishment and pride gives children the confidence to persevere in the face of challenges.
- Provide children with opportunities to help. Evidence suggests that helping others has a positive impact on mental health. Providing opportunities for children to contribute in the home or in school communicates to them that they have something to offer their world. It can also be a good way to display a child’s areas of strength.
- Have realistic expectations and goals for your child. By being realistic in your expectations for your child, you provide the child with a sense of control.
- Help your child understand the nature of their learning disability. Often children with learning disabilities have misconceptions about their learning problems that only add to their distress and negative view of themselves. Having realistic information about their learning disability and their strengths and difficulties helps them feel that things can be done to help the situation.