The terms self-confidence and self-esteem are often conflated. Confidence is a measure of faith in one’s own abilities; esteem is about our sense of self. It involves both thoughts and emotions and influences how we perceive others and interact with the world.
When children have healthy self-esteem, they tend to be confident.
Similarly, if a child has a negative self-view, which is often the case for learners with undiagnosed learning difficulties, it can cause them to lack confidence in classroom activities, particularly in tasks that involve reading and writing.
For school age children, an unrecognized learning difficulty can have serious consequences. Not only will it lead to falling behind in literacy skills development, but it quite often produces feelings of frustration, anxiety and anger.
Believing they are somehow less intelligent or capable than their peers contributes to low self-esteem, which over time causes depression. It can also trigger avoidance of activities that bring on negative emotions.
The student may be labelled as “lazy” or “not trying” which further damages self-esteem and sets in motion a vicious cycle resulting in behavioural issues and acting out.
That’s why it is crucial for parents and teachers of children with learning difficulties to focus on enhancing students’ self-esteem, in addition to their confidence. There is no quick fix for an unhealthy self-image. Building self-esteem requires getting to know one’s self and accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses.
With a healthy self-image it is possible to use coping strategies to work around challenges, improve literacy skills and regain confidence in reading and writing.
Confidence is about knowing what we can and can’t do and trusting in our abilities. Children who are self-confident may be more willing to take on challenges as well as to take responsibility for their actions. They can experience failure and vow to try harder in future endeavors. Of course, the more learners are successful, the more confidence they gain.
For students with learning difficulties, consistently underperforming on tasks that involve literacy skills, earning poor marks on assignments, and receiving negative feedback from teachers can undermine self-confidence. In particular, dyslexic individuals often experience a degree of inconsistency in their performance, spelling a word correctly one day and incorrectly the next.
This heightens anxiety and makes them even less confident in their ability to perform. A University of Michigan article cites the tendency for children with learning difficulties to see their successes as luck and their failures as faults in their own abilities (1).
If confidence is a matter of trust, esteem is an assessment of value. It is possible for an individual to be confident in certain areas of his or her life and still have low self-esteem. For example, an athlete who trusts him or herself on the playing field but isn’t confident in the classroom may secretly believe he or she is not intelligent.
A willingness to take on new challenges on the pitch might distract educators from avoidance of schoolwork and lead to continued poor performance on academic tasks.
Often children with learning differences struggle with both low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. When everyone else is doing well but you are not you may come to see yourself as “stupid” or somehow “less capable.” In worst-case scenarios, this can cause learners to drop out of school and struggle with depression well into adulthood.
The tragedy is that people with learning difficulties simply learn in a different way and adjusting classroom activities to fit their unique learning style can make all of the difference.
How to help
Self-esteem is restored when learning differences are recognized and poor performance issues are attributed to a mismatch of learning style and lessons vs a failure to try hard enough or a lack of intelligence in the child.
It is especially important for parents and teachers of students who struggle with dyslexia, dyspraxia, slow-processing, ADD, ADHD and other learning differences to concentrate on building students’ self-esteem and then providing opportunities for them to build up their self-confidence.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Expecting a dyslexic student to master the spelling of advanced vocabulary lists overnight is both unrealistic and unfair. It may take concentrated study, strategy instruction and plenty of repetition in order to achieve progress. Make sure both you and the student are on the same page, particularly during strategy interventions. This keeps expectations in check and avoids any disappointment that could get in the way of them regaining confidence in their abilities. Learn more about spelling strategies for dyslexia.
Attitude and self-image won’t change overnight. A shift in self-esteem and enhanced self-confidence will come from gradual progress and the accumulation of consistent results. Motivation to learn can speed things along, but it’s important to ensure it comes from within the learner and is not just related to external rewards.
Some learners simply need more time and repetition in order to achieve the same results. This is particularly the case when it comes to people with learning difficulties. Understand that no two individuals with a specific learning difficulty experience the same set or degree of symptoms and get to know your learners so you can help tailor lessons to their unique learning style. Typically, dyslexic students benefit from “over-learning” new material. Learn more about helping students with dyslexia and dyspraxia in the classroom.
Provide praise and encouragement and try to avoid making negative comments. Students who struggle with learning difficulties may be used to receiving mostly negative feedback concerning their approach, performance or school-work. Hearing plenty of “good job’s,” “nice going’s,” and “I really liked how you...” can change a student’s day and help them to start thinking about themselves and their abilities in a more positive light.
Recognize them for their achievements but avoid providing exaggerated praise. That’s because this can do more damage to a student’s self-esteem than good, particularly when the false praise is obvious to the individual.
The more a student is valued and praised, the higher they will begin to think of themselves. The more they enjoy success in academic tasks, the more confident they will become.
Create opportunities for success
A great way to ensure success is by breaking complex tasks into smaller and more manageable steps that individuals can work through one at a time and repeat if necessary. A self-directed learning course is helpful in this respect as it teaches a child to have faith in his or her own abilities.
This can be a program that teaches a secondary skill, like touch-typing. In this way, the student receives reinforcement of spelling, sight-reading and phonics knowledge without the stigma of needing extra help due to poor performance.
Remember that aptitude is something that can be improved through targeted training. When students are in control of their own learning and have a better understanding of what they can and can’t do, it sets them up for success.
Touch-type Read and Spell
Touch-type Read and Spell has been successfully used to restore confidence and build self-esteem in learners of all ages and ability levels. It teaches touch-typing while reinforcing literacy skills and is built of multiple levels and modules that can be repeated as necessary.
Students proceed through the course at a pace that is right for them, receiving plenty of positive feedback and encouragement along the way and gradually building skills that will help them when it comes to reading and writing for classroom assignments.
Do you have anything to add? Join the discussion in the comments!