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Literacy issues don’t just affect kids in the classroom.  They can have a wide-spread – and painful – impact on children. Research shows that children with learning disabilities are especially likely to suffer from self-esteem issues. As parents, we all want to be able to do something to help when our child hurts.  The good news is that there are some very specific things that the adults in their lives can do to help develop a positive self-image.

1. Make them feel special. Just one adult who makes a child feel special and appreciated can have dramatically improve that child’s resilience – their ability to bounce back from adversity.  Show your child you value her just as she is. Set aside special “alone” time with him each week – time when phones are turned off and you are actively engaged in something he enjoys.

2. Teach problem-solving skills.  Nothing fosters self-confidence like developing good problem-solving abilities.  Help your child come up with coping strategies for dealing with daily struggles and dilemmas.  Many times as parents we rush in with our own solutions – often exacerbating rather than solving the problem.  Ask your child what he thinks would help.  If he is stumped, help him generate a list of potential responses.  Try to come up with specific, workable solutions that “fit” your child’s personality.  Here’s a nice problem-solving worksheet to help get you started.

3. Reinforce strengths.  It is easy for a child struggling in school to “forget” that she has strengths – areas she excels. Make a list of all the things your child does well and post it in a place where you both see it often.  Find ways to highlight these things – display her artwork on the fridge, never miss a soccer game, or compliment his generosity in front of others.  Pay attention to character traits like determination and kindness to offset the outcome-based measures that can make your child feel inferior to her peers.

4. Be realistic. Understand what your child can reasonably be expected to accomplish. Accept the problem so that you are able to truly accept your child as he is. Children take their emotional cues from the adults around them.  If you can accept it, it means it is acceptable. Help your child understand the nature of his learning problems as well.  Misconceptions can be a great source of pain for childrenRealistic expectations help her develop a sense of control – and that is a cornerstone of self-esteem.

5. Have them contribute. Self-esteem is boosted when children are allowed to contribute to their world and to the well-being of others. One of the most effective ways to improve self-worth and motivation is to send the message that they have something of value to offer; that they can improve the lives of others. Give your child jobs at home to encourage a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. Help her find ways to volunteer in the community.

Watching a child struggle to keep up with his peers is heartbreaking for parents.  But you are not powerless. There are ways you can help. Use these strategies to help your child become strong, resilient, and self-confident.


Shellee Harrington, RN, MS, NCC – Shellee is a Certified Mental Health Counselor and Registered Nurse practicing in Tallahassee, Florida. She is dedicated to helping families and children manage the challenges of life and blogs at where she provides a wide variety of resources for parents. Check out her series titled Helping Kids Cope for more great tips and techniques.