The Three Competencies
In addition to the evolution of the self-concept based on our growing understanding and increased perceptions of ourselves and the world around us, our self-concept is also influenced by our perceptions of self-competence in three specific areas: cognitive (academic/school/career), physical (athletic/artistic), and social (peer groups) domains (see Figure 13.1).
Self-Esteem Based on Cognitive/Achievement Performance
Children can measure their success relative to their peers in several different areas. For children in special education, learning and achievement can be two areas that cause significant frustration and challenge. These children may work very hard to master tasks, but their efforts may not result in success for many reasons, such as poor memory, processing problems, or difficulties in problem solving. Some children may feel dumb and may begin to avoid academic work because of the frustration and their lack of success. For many children, small group work centers or resource room assistance can provide a safer environment and a slower pace, allowing them to attempt and acquire new skills.
Children should always be praised for their efforts, and tasks should be presented at levels that are neither too challenging nor too easy. Challenges that are too steep will frustrate a child, who may then develop feelings of helplessness about future efforts to master tasks. Tasks that are too easy may provide a sense of false competence and not prepare a child to take on greater challenges. Breaking down complex tasks into smaller segments can help a child to master more difficult tasks in stages that build on earlier successes.
A number of children who receive special education assistance may have a recognizable physical disability (such as a vision, hearing, or orthopedic problem). These children obtain accommodations for their disability in ways that will enhance their ability to learn (for example, wearing glasses or a hearing aid, or using crutches or a wheelchair). However, children with less obvious disabilities (such as ADHD, learning disabilities, or emotional disturbance) may be misunderstood by their teachers, parents, or peers, who may believe that these children are not achieving adequately because of a lack of effort. Such children may be described as lazy or unmotivated or not caring about school. For these children, it is important to praise their efforts and to understand that having a learning problem is a significant burden that they must carry with them throughout their academic years. The more that parents and teachers understand exactly where the child's disability lies, the more they can help the child cope academically and develop a healthy self-concept based on success in areas other than academics.
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