Supporting Positive Self-Esteem in Teens With LD
Positive self-esteem is as important to success in school—and eventually 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 such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia, however, can make it difficult for teens and young adults to develop or maintain 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 learning disabilities (LD) does not, in and of itself, negatively impact self-esteem or confidence. Rather, there are a number of areas in which teens or young adults with LD tend to exhibit characteristics that contribute to feelings of low self-worth. Parents need to watch for signs in these areas:
Communication style and social awarenessIn conversation, does your teen have difficulty judging when or how it is appropriate to participate? Is he or she seemingly unaware that their behaviors are annoying to others?
Self-knowledgeYour teen may have trouble understanding his or her strengths and weaknesses. Is your teen able to reflect on and evaluate their behavior in social interactions?
LanguageThey may have trouble expressing their thoughts verbally.
Self-perceived social statusIf your teen has trouble figuring out how he or she fits 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 changeYour teen 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 and not their own efforts.
Whether your child’s LD was identified as a young child or as a teen, the diagnosis may have triggered a change in self-esteem. However, many individuals with LD have shared that their diagnosis actually gave them a sense of relief—that they weren’t “dumb,” that there were real and legitimate reasons behind their struggles in school. Once your teen understands how the LD may impact not only the way in which they learn, but other areas of their life (e.g., social skills), they can use that self-awareness to rely more on their strengths and become more proactive about working around their weaknesses—a mindset that help the maintain positive self-esteem.
How Parents Can Help
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 adolescents develop the strengths and skills they need to cope successfully with the challenges they face. Here are some key things that parents can do to help:
- Be empathetic. See the world through your teen's eyes.
- Communicate with respect. Don't interrupt or put them down; answer their questions.
- Give them your undivided attention. Children feel loved when parents spend one-on-one time with them.
- Accept and love your teen for who they are. This will allow them to feel more secure in reaching out to others and learning how to solve problems.
- Give your teen a chance to contribute. This communicates your faith in their abilities and gives them a sense of responsibility.
- Treat mistakes as learning experiences. Adolescents whose parents overreact to mistakes tend to avoid taking risks, then end up blaming others for their problems.
- Emphasize your teen’s strengths. When your teen feels a sense of accomplishment and pride, they will have more confidence to persevere when they face challenges.
- Let your teen solve problems and make decisions. Avoid telling them what to do; encourage them to come up with solutions to problems.
- Support positive relationships and social skills. Adolescents with LD can gain confidence and feel better about themselves when they develop competency in these areas.
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, teens and young adults with LD 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. When parents provide their teens with intentional, effective instruction and meaningful support, they’re helping to foster positive self-esteem and create a roadmap to future success.