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Building Self-Esteem with LD Children

— National Center for Learning Disabilities
Updated on Jul 23, 2009

Positive self-esteem is as important to success in school and on the job as the mastery of individual skills. And there's no question that doing something well helps a person feel better about themselves, their accomplishments and their potential to succeed in the future. Learning disabilities, however, can make it difficult for a child to develop positive self-esteem, which may in turn contribute to a hard-to-break cycle of self-doubt, frustration and failure.

Research has shown that being classified with LD does not, in and of itself, negatively impact self-esteem or confidence. Rather, there are a number of areas in which people with LD tend to exhibit characteristics that contribute to feelings of low self-worth:

Communication style and social awareness: In conversation, they may have difficulty judging when or how it is appropriate to participate, or be unaware that their behaviors are annoying to others.

Self-knowledge: They may have trouble understanding their strengths and  weaknesses, or reflecting on and evaluating their behavior in social interactions.

Language: They may have trouble expressing their thoughts verbally.

Self-perceived social status: If they have trouble figuring out how they fit into their peer group, they may withdraw from social situations, become passive, or “stick out” in a crowd for trying too hard to fit in.

Self-perceived ability to effect change: They may be prone to believing that they are not capable of controlling their own successes – that luck or fate is responsible for the outcome of a situation, not their own efforts.

Strategies for Helping Children with LD Build Confidence and Self-Esteem

In their book, "The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life," Dr. Robert Brooks and Dr. Sam Goldstein offer parents guideposts to help children and adolescents develop the strength and skills they need to cope successfully with the challenges they face.  Here are some key things, adapted from the book, that parents can do to help:

  • Be empathetic. See the world through your children's eyes.
  • Communicate with respect. Don't interrupt or put them down; answer their questions.
  • Give undivided attention. Children feel loved when we spend one-on-one time with them.
  • Accept and love children for who they are. This will allow them to feel more secure in reaching out to others and learning how to solve problems.
  • Give children a chance to contribute. This communicates your faith in their abilities and gives them a sense of responsibility.
  • Treat mistakes as learning experiences. Children whose parents overreact to mistakes tend to avoid taking risks, then end up blaming others for their problems.
  • Emphasize their strengths. A sense of accomplishment and pride give children the confidence to persevere when they face challenges.
  • Let them solve problems and make decisions. Avoid telling children what to do; encourage them to come up with solutions to problems.
  • Discipline to teach. Do not discipline in a way that intimidates or humiliates your child.

Children with LD can also gain confidence and feel better about themselves when they develop competent social skills and positive relationships

Throughout life, self-esteem is a critical and often elusive ingredient for happiness and success. Even with the best experiences in school and at home, children are especially vulnerable to attacks on their feelings of self worth, and as we all know, memories of threats to self-esteem can linger for years, even decades. Individuals with LD are especially vulnerable to these threats by the very nature of their having LD. Coupled with intentional, effective instruction and meaningful support, building self-esteem is building a roadmap to future success for children with LD.

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