When adults consider what builds kids’ self-esteem, what usually comes to mind are bigger achievements in a child’s life, such as making the basketball team, winning a science contest, or being in a school play.

However, when we spoke with a group of fifth and sixth graders, all of whom have identified learning disabilities, we learned some interesting facts. We asked the kids to talk about things they do, or have done, that they feel really great about. They started off by listing typical school achievements, such as getting good grades, doing well in math, or “acing” a test. It’s no surprise why these accomplishments improve their self-esteem.

Small successes in school

But the kids also told us about smaller, perhaps less noticeable, successes in school. These are successes other kids naturally assume will happen or ones adults might not acknowledge:

  • “Finishing a school year so I can relax during the summer.”
  • “Making it to the fifth grade because I didn’t think I would.”
  • “Getting my homework done on time.”
  • “Actually completing a social studies project.”
  • “Making a new friend.”
  • “Knowing your friends will like you even though you go to special education class.”

We found that kids with learning disabilities don’t take academic or social achievements for granted. Those kinds of accomplishments often don’t come as easily as they do to other kids and, for this reason, makes them a greater cause for celebration. After all, it’s the smaller, “quieter” successes in life that can add up to a lot, especially when it comes to the self-esteem of kids.

Advice to teachers

The fifth and sixth graders also talked about simple acts of fairness and kindness by their teachers. These were actions that would help the self-esteem of any kid but especially one with learning disabilities. For most of us, these actions may seem to be instinctive. However, it’s wise to remind ourselves every now and then, as they can sometimes be forgotten or ignored in the daily life of a classroom:

  • “Taking the time to explain things.”
  • “Not yelling.”
  • “Giving plenty of compliments and ‘put ups’ (opposite of ‘put downs’).”
  • “Recognizing kids’ good ideas.”
  • “Teaching that everyone’s brain is different and we all learn differently.”

Everyday accomplishments

Finally, the kids talked about things they do at home, after school, or on the weekends that make them feel good about themselves. Such simple, everyday accomplishments help build self-esteem by reinforcing kids’ special talents and interests, and by connecting them to family and friends:

  • “Knowing cool skateboard tricks.”
  • “Eating dinner with my family.”
  • “Taking care of my dog when he’s sick.”
  • “Feeding my parakeet.”
  • “Building my bike from scratch.”
  • “Drawing well.”
  • “Being a good singer.”

In the end, the kids we spoke with didn’t necessarily ask for awards or certificates for their successes. Rather, they wanted a simple acknowledgement for all the everyday things they succeed at and do so well — accomplishments other kids might brush off as too easy, or acts adults might not even notice. By recognizing and celebrating such small, everyday successes with kids, parents and teachers can reinforce resilience and self-esteem in immeasurable ways.