5 Tips For Building Self-Esteem In Children With Special Needs
By: Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.
Confidence goes a long way in defining who we are and how we act towards other people in our daily lives, but for children with special needs, it can be harder to find value and self-worth than for others. Disabilities and limitations can serve to further the divide between reality and what people consider to be “normal,” which separates a child with special needs from other kids due to a lack of understanding. Is it fair? Absolutely not; everyone deserves equal access to the basic foundations of life. Is there something we can do about it? Yes!
A child with special needs perceives the world in their own manner, which can cause frustration and anxiety when they realize their limitations, or don’t get the results the want to achieve. This can lead to a child acting up out of anger, or create low-self-esteem. Children who are consistently forced to be an active participant in a game with our rules become despondent or develop an “I can’t” attitude, and understandably so. We need to teach children in a manner or language that they can understand with their unique abilities, which is why we’re presenting you with a few tips on how to foster better communication and confidence in your child with special needs.
1. Spend quality time with your child.
It may sound like a no-brainer – you’re around your child every day, right? How can you not be spending time with them? There’s a difference, however, in being around them and spending time with them, the latter of which helps build confidence in untold ways. When you engage in activities with your child one-on-one, you are showing them that their world matters. Your undivided attention to what interests them lets them know you love and care about them, no matter what.
2. Use positive reinforcement.
Children – and, in fact, most people – respond better to positive messages than negative. When we receive a positive message about our actions, it activates the pleasure center in our brain and releases a flood of dopamine and oxytocin, otherwise known as the “feel good” chemicals. Our bodies have a visceral reaction to things that make us feel good, and we want more of it. A child with special needs who consistently receives positive messages of encouragement will feel empowered to achieve more than they could have ever expected.
Positive reinforcement can come in the form of a pat on the back, a small hug or a big smile while you and your child are spending time together. Help them to feel good about their abilities, and celebrate their efforts – you’ll see a change in attitude and confidence in no time.
3. Find things your child likes to do.
Nothing is more frustrating than when we’re forced to do something we don’t like over and over again, especially if we’re not that good at it. For a child with special needs, who might experience frustration quicker than other children, simple tasks can become a nightmare. To help your child feel strong and capable, explore activities that they enjoy. Does your child love to draw? Sit down with them and color the pictures they draw for you, letting them know how great the drawing looks. Is listening to music something that soothes your child? Play the songs in your child’s playlist and listen with them, commenting on their good taste in songs. Engaging your child in activities they enjoy lets them know they aren’t lost in the shuffle of the world, and that their preferences and likes really do matter.
4. Provide them with small responsibilities.
Giving your child with special needs a task you know they can easily complete helps to build their confidence. They will be able to experience the feeling of a job well done and marvel at their accomplishments, which also gives you a chance to use positive reinforcement. Words like, “Great job!” or “Way to go!” can elicit a smile of approval from your child. Just remember to keep the tasks within their limitations to avoid undue frustrations and tension that might arise from them not being able to complete the responsibility without parental assistance.
5. Engage in activities that celebrate their special needs.
Much like small responsibilities and personalized attention, finding activities they love to do while celebrating their special needs helps a child feel good about their accomplishments. Outside support groups for children with special needs know just what your child needs in order to build confidence, and finding other children that have similar limitations can provide a safe, structured environment in which your child is just another one of the crowd. Peer acceptance can go a long way towards increasing feelings of self-esteem. Check with your local family support office to see if they can point you in the direction of a group your child can join or perhaps involvement in your local community.
Focusing on a child’s talents, instead of dwelling on what they can’t do, enforces the positive message that you believe in their abilities and want to see them succeed. Giving them the assistance they need to build basic skills increases self-worth, self-esteem, confidence and value in their own abilities. And who doesn’t need a healthy dose of encouragement in their life from time to time?
As part of our ongoing effort to see children with special needs reach their educational goals, Special Education Resource is working hard to provide you with information designed to assist you in making informed decisions about your child’s success. Parenting a child with special needs can be difficult, and you might feel alone at times, which is why we created this company. Our specially trained tutors can offer your child supplemental learning and individualized lesson plans that are tailored to your child’s special abilities and unique learning style; indeed, we want to teach in the manner your child will learn best, whatever that might be. A free consultation can help answer the mountain of questions you may have along with offer more specific guidance for you and your child.
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