Most parents are aware that their child’s feelings of self-worth are linked with their success socially and academically. But, sometimes parents are unaware of how easy it is to damage their child’s self-esteem without even realizing it. Research shows that children with learning disabilities are more likely to suffer from lack of self-esteem than their peers. The Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities, along with Dr. Robert Brooks, have compiled a list of ways parents can develop positive feelings of self-worth in their children.
Help your child feel special and appreciated. Research indicates that one of the main factors that contributes to a child developing hope and becoming resilient is the presence of at least one adult who helps the child to feel special and appreciated; an adult who does not ignore a child’s problems, but focuses energy on a child’s strengths. One way for parents to do this is to set aside “special time” during the week alone with each child in the household. If the child is young, it is even helpful for the parent to say, “When I read to you or play with you, I won’t even answer the phone if it rings.” Also, during these special times, focus on things that your child enjoys doing so that he/she has an opportunity to relax and to display his/her strengths.
Help your child to develop problem-solving and decision-making skills. High self-esteem is associated with solid problem-solving skills. For example, if your child is having difficulty with a friend, you can ask him/her to think about a couple of ways of solving the situation. Don’t worry if your child can’t think of solutions immediately, you can help him/her reflect upon possible solutions. Also, try role playing situations with your child to help demonstrate the steps involved in problem-solving.
Avoid comments that are judgmental. Instead, frame them in more positive terms. For example, a comment that often comes out in an accusatory way is, “try harder and put in more of an effort.” Many children do try hard and still have difficulty. Instead say, “We have to figure out better strategies to help you learn.” Children are less defensive when the problem is cast as strategies that must be changed rather than as something deficient with their motivation. This approach also reinforces problem-solving skills.
Be an empathetic parent. Many well-meaning parents, out of their own frustration, have been heard to say such things as, “Why don’t you listen to me?!” or “why don’t you use your brain?” If your child is having difficulty with learning, it is best to be empathetic and say to the child that you know he/she is having difficulty; then the parent can cast the difficulty into a problem to be solved and involve the child in thinking about possible solutions.
Provide choices for your child. This will also minimize power struggles that may arise. For example, ask your child if he/she would like to be reminded 5 or 10 minutes before bedtime to get ready for bed. These beginning choices help to set the foundation for a feeling of control of one’s life.
Do not compare siblings. It is important not to compare siblings and to highlight the strengths of all children in the family.
Highlight your child’s strengths. Unfortunately, many youngsters view themselves in a negative way, especially in terms of school. Make a list of your child’s “islands of competence” or areas of strength. Select one of these islands and find ways of reinforcing and displaying it. For example, if your child is a wonderful artist, display his/her artwork.
Provide opportunities for children to help. Children seem to have an inborn need to help others. Providing opportunities for children to help is a very concrete way of displaying their “islands of competence” and of highlighting that they have something to offer their world. Involving your child in charitable work is just one possible example. Helping others certainly boosts their self-esteem.
Have realistic expectations and goals for your child. Having realistic expectations provides the child with a sense of control. The development of self-control goes hand-in-glove with self-esteem.
Help your child understand the nature of his/her learning disability. Many children have fantasies and misconceptions about their learning problems that add to their distress (for example, one child said he was born with half a brain). Having realistic information provides that child not only with a sense of control, but also with a feeling that things can be done to help the situation.
The Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities is a collaborative public awareness effort coordinated by the Communications Consortium Media Center and generously supported by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.