By Robert Brooks, Ph.D.
Since many youngsters with learning and attention difficulties are burdened by low self-esteem, it is important for parents, teachers, and other adults to be aware of the signs. An increased awareness allows us to have a greater understanding of children with learning differences and to assist them to become more confident and self-assured.
The signs of low self-esteem may vary considerably from one child to the next and even from one situation to the next. Children especially experience low self-esteem in situations in which they believe they are destined for failure. Thus, it is not unusual for youngsters with learning problems to feel most vulnerable in settings in which their learning difficulties are very obvious and exposed, such as in school. Not surprisingly, some of these children feel greater confidence when engaged in an activity in which they feel more proficient, for example, an adolescent boy with learning difficulties who feels "stupid" in school but very self-assured while working on the motor of his car. Unfortunately, for a number of youngsters, a sense of low self-esteem is so pervasive that there are few, if any, situations in which they feel competent.
How do we know when children suffer from low self-esteem? Sometimes the signs are very direct, while at other times the signs must be inferred from the behavior of the children and the ways in which they cope.
With some children and adolescents there is little doubt they are weighed down by low self-esteem. Their messages — "I am so stupid," "I always do everything wrong," "I will never learn" — capture their despair, sadness, lack of confidence, and loss of hope.
I met Matt when he was a young adolescent. He was diagnosed with learning and attention problems. He lacked confidence and manifested two other signs of low self-esteem, namely, he was depressed and entertained little hope for future success. He wrote a story about school that vividly and directly portrayed the despair and hopelessness of many children with learning problems. As one reads his poignant story, there is little doubt of his struggles with low self-esteem.
School has been and still is something I dread profusely. Going to school has been like climbing up a tremendous, rocky mountain with steep cliffs and jagged, slippery rocks. This mountain is very grey and always covered in dark, murky, cold clouds. I step forth to take on this task of climbing this huge mountain. Each step is a battle against strong, howling, icy winds. The winds contain frigid rain that slams against my body, trying to push me down. I keep battling my way up. Sometimes I am knocked down, and sometimes I have to stop to regain my strength. My body is numb. My hands shake like leaves in the wind as I claw myself up the mountainside. Not being able to open my eyes, I blindly claw myself up the steep cliff. I stop because I am in so such great pain. I look up and see that my struggle has hardly begun. Sometimes I just do not want to go on any further.
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