Improving Your Child's Self-Esteem

By Daves, Jada Ledford | The Exceptional Parent, September 1999 | Go to article overview
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Improving Your Child's Self-Esteem

Daves, Jada Ledford, The Exceptional Parent

September is once again upon us and it is time to make back-to-school preparations for our children. A healthy supply of self-esteem, however, is more important than pens and paper for success in school. This article contains some tips and suggestions on how to boost your child's self-esteem as well as some resources to access.

Self-esteem is especially important for children with disabilities who face sometimes harsh realities and awesome challenges. When I was 18, I suffered near-fatal injuries in a car accident. Having overcome my own challenge, I am fully aware of how broadly the level of self-esteem can change a child's life.

I sustained a brain concussion, a leg injury, damage to one eye, and severe lacerations to my face. When I regained consciousness and began to recover, I became deeply depressed and withdrawn. I may never walk again, I thought, and my once unblemished face was destroyed. The next year of my life was considerably trying as a result of the trauma, as well as the severe, unexpected blow my self-esteem had taken.

The love and encouragement of my family helped me through surgery and rehabilitation, and helped me come to grips with my situation. I was forced to accept my new self for who I was and do battle with the constant reminders that my looks and booming self-confidence were gone. Feeling more assured through my recovery and with my family's support, I refocused my energies on college and a teaching degree.

The long-term effects of my accident, however, made me think about the importance of self-esteem. Having eventually regained 75 percent use of my leg and some of my lost self-esteem, I took an interest in studying how and why people get to deep self-esteem lows and what they need to do to break out of them. What made people succeed in life? What is it that keeps them down when they fall? What impact does self-esteem have on our lives?

By speaking with other people who either had some physical disability or special challenge in their lives, I began to notice a common theme. It seemed that regardless of a person's age, background, race, etc., a person's self-esteem is strongly affected by the physical characteristics of his or her body. In my research, I came across a study in which Dr. Susan Harter, professor of psychology at the University of Denver, drew the following conclusion: "Through extensive research we have established the single most critical factor in self-esteem is physical appearance." I could relate immediately to that conclusion, and decided that helping people--especially children--make the strides I was making with my own self-esteem would improve their lives and give them a better chance at success in life, regardless of disability.

Through my research, I discovered some important positive patterns exhibited by individuals with high self-esteem: decreased feelings of alienation and insecurities; fewer negative health behaviors, such as risky sexual behavior, drug abuse, and suicide; they have a lower rate of teenage pregnancy; they earn more money; they have better relationships; they live longer; and they are less likely to be susceptible to negative social influences. Parents play a key role in shaping their child's behavior. Included here are some ideas which can be used by parents to encourage a strong sense of self.


1. Parents and guardians need to be supportive and encouraging of their child. Let them know they have achieved something, even the smallest accomplishment. Affection is also very important. A good hug or gentle touch can lift a child's spirits and make him/her feel your support. Your physical presence at their social activities is also a way to show them that what they are doing is worthwhile and important.

A conversation I had with Jill Hindman, a woman with spina bifida who uses a wheelchair, is still very flesh in my mind.

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