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Self Esteem for Learning Disabled Children

Updated on October 21, 2012

One of the biggest obstacles for learning disabled children is not the disability itself – instead, it is the diminished self esteem that often accompanies the disability. Children with learning disabilities quite often display symptoms of lowered self esteem and poor self image. The daily struggle of coping with the disability can be extremely wearing to a child’s spirit. Many children with learning disabilities experience repeated failure, taunts by peers, and considerable negative feedback from various sources. Though these children are often quite bright, many of them will attribute their difficulties to being “stupid” or “dumb.” Successes are often shrugged away as luck instead of as resulting from their own talents and hard work.

The Cause of Low Self Esteem in Learning Disabled Children

Not all learning disabled children have problems with self esteem, but many do. This is due in large part to the many spoken and unspoken messages these children receive from peers, teachers, and family members. Prior to being diagnosed with a learning disability, many children experience a significant amount of struggle and failure academically. They are often ridiculed, punished, and subjected to the disappointment of parents and teachers.

As early as kindergarten, many children with learning disabilities begin to recognize that they are not as successful at recognizing numbers and letters as their peers. This sense of inadequacy is only strengthened by subsequent failures and defeats. These children quite often begin to feel bad about themselves. Many of them even begin to fear that how they feel about themselves is how the world feels about them as well.

Unfortunately, after a child is identified with a learning disability, they are often then subjected to lowered expectations that do more harm to their self esteem than good. Low expectations from others have the adverse affect of influencing the expectations learning disabled children have on themselves. In addition, many of these children continue to face disappointment from their caretakers and ridicule from their peers following diagnosis. It is easy to see how so many avenues of negativity can erode a child’s delicate sense of self and result in lowered self esteem.

Overcoming Low Self Esteem in Children with Learning Disabilities

The key to building self esteem in learning disabled children is to find and accentuate strengths. The great thing about strengths is that everyone has them and children with learning disabilities are no exception. It is important to highlight these strengths and, if possible, strengthen them even more. Write down your child’s strengths, allow the child to practice them, and mention how good they are at whatever it is they are good at.

Learning disabled children should surround themselves with people who are accepting of them just the way they are. Avoid people who ridicule or tear you down mentally or emotionally. Instead, find people who truly enjoy being with you and who you truly enjoy being with.

Overcoming low self esteem may also involve participating in activities and exercises that build self esteem. Activities to boost self esteem may include:

  • Making lists of your strengths, accomplishments, and those things that make you feel good.
  • Keeping a journal of new accomplishments
  • Taking care of yourself
  • Looking for ways to utilize special talents and abilities
  • Volunteering your time or do something for your community
  • Exercising
  • Writing out 10 achievable goals and then working to achieve them

These are only examples of ways to feel good about yourself and raise your self esteem. To learn more about self esteem boosters, you may want to consider attending a self-esteem building class or therapy. Overcoming low self esteem can be challenging, but it is not impossible.

Tips for Parents of Learning Disabled Children

Parents of children with learning disabilities often find themselves frustrated regarding their child’s negative experiences and the poor sense of self that often develops. Here are a few things that parents can do to help their children through the difficult times.

1. Teach your child about their disability

Knowledge supports self esteem. Allow your child to learn as much as they can about their disability. This will prevent them from drawing erroneous conclusions. Arm your child with the facts and make sure they understand the following:

  • · Learning disabilities are not linked to low intelligence
  • · The intelligence of a learning disabled child is often comparable or even better than their peers
  • · There are tools and learning strategies that can help learning disabled children to master certain concepts
  • · Learning disabled children can be very successful in life

2. Teach your child about other successful people with the same learning disability

Knowing you are not alone can be a powerful self esteem booster. Learning about others who have found success despite their learning disability can be a great motivator.

3. Listen to your child

One of the best things you can do for your child is listen to them. Encourage conversation by using open ended questions to ask them about their day, their favorite activity in school, or their thoughts on any given subject. Keeping an open line of communication with your child will also help you to see when they are struggling, when a certain technique or strategy is helpful, and just how they feel about themselves and their learning disability.

4. Advocate and be an active member of your child’s assessment team

Quite often children with learning disabilities face many different assessments throughout their academic careers. There may be times when your child requires some parental advocacy and you should be available to provide it. This will help your child to see that they are important to you and if they are important in your eyes then that must mean they are very important people.

5. Create opportunities for success

Again, everyone has strengths. Find ways to reinforce and display talents and abilities. Learn what makes your child feel good and provide plenty of opportunity for them to practice being successful.


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