The Power to Learn: Helping Your Child Build Self-Esteem (page 3)
For many individuals, both with and without learning disabilities (LD), self-esteem is a powerful predictor of success. Not all students with LD have problems with social competence and self-esteem, but many do, and struggling daily with the challenges posed by a learning disability can erode the enthusiasm and confidence that make learning, at all ages, fun. Knowing one's assets and liabilities, and feeling good about one's self can be an invaluable tool for negotiating the sometimes tumultuous path to achievement in school, success in the workplace, and acceptance at home and in the community at large.
Positive self-esteem is a powerful thing
It has been said that 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, often pose formidable hurdles to positive self-esteem, and these in turn contribute to a hard-to-break cycle of self-doubt, frustration and failure.
Self-esteem can be described as how we think of ourselves and view ourselves in the context of our surroundings. Students in school have self-esteem shaped by how well they get along with peers and teachers. They are constantly making judgments about how "good" they are in comparison to their peers. Self-esteem is also shaped by how well children negotiate relationships with parents and siblings, and how successful they are in understanding and responding to many ever- changing interpersonal demands across many different settings. It is precisely in these areas that students with LD have the greatest difficulty, thus contributing to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
The importance of social competence
Building social competence is a key to becoming a self-reliant and confident person. Individuals who demonstrate this quality seem to know how to move from person to person or group to group, seemingly relaxed and at ease regardless of whether they are talking or listening. They also seem to demonstrate traits such as:
- knowing how to initiate and maintain positive relationships with peers and others
- knowing how to interpret social situations and judge how to interact without drawing negative attention to themselves
- engaging in interactions without being disruptive or drawing negative attention to themselves, sustaining attention and contributing to conversations, and controlling their impulses and delaying the need to draw attention to themselves, even in well-intended ways
Once again, it is these traits that often pose the greatest challenges to individuals with LD.
Threats to self-esteem in students with LD
While there is no menu of characteristics that captures the threats to self-esteem in individuals with LD, there are a number of traits, frequently observed in people with LD, that contribute to feelings of low self-worth. One interesting research finding is that by itself, having the special education classification of specific LD has not been shown to have a negative impact on self-esteem. Rather, there are a number of other factors that seem to impact self-esteem in individuals with LD in negative ways.
- Communication style and social cognition
- seems to be overly egocentric and not interested in the responses of other speakers (when nothing could be father from the truth)
- has difficulty judging when it is his/her turn to participate in a conversation
- may misinterpret feelings and emotions of others and not realize when their behaviors are bothersome or annoying
- may have problems with visual spatial planning and self-regulation, resulting in difficulties judging how close to stand to someone during conversation, how to assume and maintain a relaxed posture, and when it might be appropriate to touch
- Self knowledge
- not sure how to understand or explain personal strengths and weaknesses to others
- is a poor self-observer and has trouble sizing up and reflect upon what is going right (and wrong) during social interactions
- has limited vocabulary or difficulty retrieving the right words for the situation
- is weak in verbal pragmatics (fitting the use of language to social situations)—For example, not knowing when (or how) to laugh without offending the listener
- has trouble with topic selection and knowing when to stop a conversation
- talks around a topic and provides less critical (and more extraneous) information in response to a question
- is more likely to repeat rather than clarify when asked to expand upon an explanation
- is more likely that peers to use gestures and demonstrations when sharing information
- Self-perceived social status
- has great difficulty knowing how he/she fits in to a peer group, which often results in 'hanging back' or being a passive (rather than active) participant in activities
- has limited success 'self-marketing' and getting noticed in positive ways within a peer group
- perceives self as less popular and more frequently rejected or ignored by peers (sometimes resulting in further self-imposed isolation)
- Expectations by others
- is repeatedly confronted with messages of low expectations for academic achievement by teachers and parents
- is frequently (albeit not intentionally) the target of spoken and unspoken messages of disappointment and lowered expectation by parents and others
- is viewed as having diminished potential for success, even with services and support in school and at home
- Locus of control
- believes that outcomes are controlled by external influences (luck, chance, fate) rather than as a result if their own internal efforts
- assumes a posture of "learned helplessness", that is to say, they assume that because they struggled with something in the past, there is little they can do to change a negative outcome in the future, so they stop trying and hope for the best
The bottom line
Throughout the life span, 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.
Bos, Candace. S. & Vaughn, S. (1994) Strategies for teaching Students with Learning & Behavior Problems. Allyn & Bacon, Needham Heights, MA.
Osman, Betty, B. (1982). The Social Side of Learning Disabilities. Random House. New York, NY.
Osman, Betty, B. (1997) Learning Disabilities and ADHD: A Family Guide to Living and Learning Together. Wiley & Sons. New York, NY.
Raskind, Marshall H. et al. (1999). Patterns of Change and Predictors of Success in Individual with Learning Disabilities: Results from a Twenty-Year Longitudinal Study. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 14, 135-49. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. , Mahwah, NJ
The Search Institute (http://www.search-institute.org/assets/)
Levine, M. (2001). Jarvis Clutch -Social Spy. Educators Publishing Service. Cambridge, MA
Just the facts
- Social emotional problems are not the cause but rather the consequence of academic frustration and failure.
- Student with LD often attribute their successes to luck and chance rather than good effort
- Learning disabilities do place individuals at risk for potential threats to self-esteem.
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Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. © 1999-2009 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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