Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Nurturing Self-Esteem in Your Child with Special Needs

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Nurturing Self-Esteem in Your Child with Special Needs

Article excerpt

The lives of children with disabilities can be a revolving door of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, tutors, and more. When my son, who is 14 years old and has cerebral palsy, was in preschool, he referred to his therapy as "trying to make me a whole boy."

That statement was a wake up call, and I worried greatly about his self-esteem. Children with disabilities may have a higher risk for low self-esteem because there is a lot of emphasis placed on trying to "fix" what they cannot do, such as walking, speaking, reading, or math. My son works hard at everything he does, and I wildly applauded when he walked across the room with his walker for the first time or transferred independently. While he certainly deserves praise for his efforts and accomplishments, I was cognizant of the fact that his peers were applauded for improved baseball swings or trombone skills. While therapies and tutors may be vital for the improved health and academic success for our children, how can a child who needs all of this intervention build and maintain self-esteem through the years?

"Kids naturally compare themselves to other children in academic and athletic situations. Because special needs children have deficiencies in these areas, these comparisons create negative self-esteem," says Rick

Lavoie, MA, MEd, renowned author, speaker, and advocate for children with special needs. Lavoie, author of The Motivation Breakthrough, advises parents to watch for these warning signs:

* Unwillingness to take risks in different areas (social, classroom, athletics).

* Tendency to quit when facing a difficult or challenging task; assumes failure, seeing it as inevitable and unavoidable.

* Clowning to relieve pressure and to hide fear and lack of confidence.

* Bullying, aggressiveness. Child may feel vulnerable and responds by going on the offensive.

* Denial; refusing to admit unhappiness, insecurity, or intimidation

* Dawdling, procrastinating to avoid challenging tasks.

* Impulsive behavior to "get the task over with."

Lavoie does tell parents not to be overly concerned about these behaviors. "They are often merely temporary strategies that the child uses to cope with this self-esteem problem," says Lavoie. "These behaviors generally decrease as the child's self-esteem improves."

According to Lavoie, who is also known for his F.A.T. (Frustration, Anxiety, Tension) City videos about teaching children with special needs, a child's self-esteem will be determined by the unconditional love of his parents, the conditional love of others, social acceptance and friendships, competence in a skill area, his or her physical self (clothing, attractiveness), and character (effort and generosity). Lavoie has these tips for boosting self-esteem:

* Help a child feel competent by celebrating and acknowledging his or her skills.

* Enhance a child's self-esteem by improving the child's problem solving skills.

* Recognize and celebrate effort not just success.

* Provide a child with opportunities to help others (older relatives, neighbors). Kids need to be needed.

* Treat mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. Mistakes are an inevitable--and valuable--part of any learning experience.

According to Lavoie, who also authored It's So Much Work to Be Your Friend, having friends is an important factor in a child's sense of self-worth. Parents of children with disabilities may have to go the extra mile to make sure that their children cultivate real friendships.

Kathy Anger, whose 19-year-old son, Greg, has cerebral palsy, says that the combination of having good friends and playing wheelchair basketball throughout his childhood helped Greg develop and maintain good self-esteem. She says that their house became the hangout house for Greg and his friends. "When he was younger, it was physically easier for Greg to go to his friends' houses because they would play on the floor anyway. …

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