At a Glance

  • Developing positive self-esteem is especially important for kids with learning and thinking differences.
  • Self-esteem is tied to how capable and valuable your child feels.
  • Giving your child ways to recognize strengths helps to boost self-esteem.

Self-esteem is how much kids value themselves and how important they believe they are in their world. Developing positive self-esteem is important for all kids. But it can be harder for kids with learning and thinking differences. That’s because self-esteem is tied to how capable kids feel. Kids with learning and thinking differences often have to work harder to make progress in school. They may struggle socially, too.

You can help your child develop positive self-esteem by praising her efforts and helping her recognize and use her strengths. Here are specific ways to help your child do that.

1. Open up a dialogue and be a role model.

Talk to your child not only about her learning and thinking differences, but also about things you find challenging and have to work to overcome. It’s good for your child to hear you talk about how you value your own strengths, while also acknowledging your weaknesses.

For example, if you have weak working memory, it’s OK to mention it: “I can’t remember the items on the grocery list.” But try to pair that statement with something that emphasizes your problem-solving skills: “Next time I’ll use my phone to take a picture of the list in case I forget to bring that piece of paper to the store.”

2. Provide clear, but not critical, feedback.

It can be hard to talk to kids about the things they need to get better at. But addressing those topics clearly can actually help your child develop self-esteem. The key is to talk about challenges in a way that motivates kids to improve without making them feel bad about themselves.

Positive self-esteem comes from working hard toward a goal. So, rather than criticize, try offering your child a specific goal to work toward. For instance, instead of saying “Why do you always leave your clothes in such a mess?” you can say, “Your clothes are all over the place. You can come back to your game after you put away your laundry.”

3. Help foster a growth mindset.

Help your child reframe negative thoughts and statements. Kids with a growth mindset believe their abilities can improve over time. (As opposed to kids with a fixed mindset, who think their abilities are set and can’t change, no matter how hard they try.

For example, your child might say, “I can’t read that. It’s too hard because I have dyslexia.” You can respond by saying, “Yes, reading is hard for you, and you can’t read that book yet. Let’s formulate a plan to get better at it.”

4. Teach that mistakes are learning experiences.

Part of having a growth mindset is acknowledging that mistakes are learning opportunities. When your child knows that it’s OK to fail and there are solutions to mistakes, it can help build self-esteem. Help your child find the “next time you can” in her mistakes. For example, you could say, “Yep, you spilled the juice. Next time you’re pouring the juice, you can hold your glass over the sink.”

5. Praise your child’s approach and efforts—not just the end result.

It’s important to praise your child. But how you praise your child matters, too. Rather than just focusing on the end result, praise how your child went about it. By acknowledging the approach kids take to tackling challenges, you help them learn that they’re capable of overcoming obstacles. Specific, honest praise is key to building positive self-esteem.

For example, find ways to praise your child for working hard on the projects she does for school and for fun. You could say, “Your hard work practicing the piano really shows when you play that song. I know it was tough at first, but it was good to ask the piano teacher for advice.” (Explore more tips on how to give praise that builds self-esteem.)

6. Encourage extracurricular interests or mentors.

Finding anextracurricular activitythey enjoy and are good at can help kids discover their strengths and keep academic struggles in perspective. If your child has a nice voice and likes to sing, find a choir to join. Or if she’s interested in sports, talk about signing up for a local soccer or softball league.

Watch as kids with learning and thinking differences talk about the value of mentorship

If there’s no activity that immediately appeals to your child, consider seeking out a mentor for your child. Connecting with someone who’s a little further along in the journey can inspire and build confidence in your child.

7. Point out successful role models with learning and thinking differences.

Knowing there are successful people, including athletes, celebrities and entrepreneurs with learning and thinking differences who faced similar struggles can also be a source of inspiration. For example, actor Daniel Radcliffe has said that doing stunt work for the Harry Potter movies helped him overcome some of his struggles with dyspraxia.

Helping your child develop positive self-esteem is possible. For more ideas, read about ways to be a supportive, realistic parent while avoiding being overprotective of your child. Teach your child the power of resilience and of staying motivated. Over time, your child can learn to improve how she views and values herself.

Key Takeaways

  • Fostering a growth mindset helps children find new ways to look at their abilities.
  • Learning from mistakes and talking openly can help boost confidence and self-esteem.
  • Being supportive but realistic is key to helping children develop positive self-esteem.
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