In the article “Growth mindset and dyslexia” I touched on the issue of self-esteem and noted how many people with dyslexia also suffer from low self-esteem.
The reason is easy to see – we are told that everyone can spell… except of course children who are in the process of still learning how to spell. So failure to be able to spell is a sign of not being grown up.
Of course developing the self-esteem of children and teenagers is generally not seen as a central part of the school’s work, although educational psychologists will naturally focus on this issue when they come across it in relation to other aspects of behaviour.
And of course raising a child’s self-esteem does not help the child improve her or his spelling abilities. But low self-esteem is such a damaging condition, especially for a child who is already having to cope with being near the bottom of the class in English, that it is worth considering.
So what can be done to help a pupil or student who has low self-esteem?
Much depends on the child or teenager and his or her mental state overall, so by no means all of these ideas are going to be appropriate in each case. What’s more, if the child has access to an educational psychologist then that specialist’s advice and guidance will be much more appropriate than anything I can suggest from a distance and without knowing the individual child.
But this list of headings is offered as ways that can help, and if you can find one or two that can be used with a dyslexic child or teenager who is struggling with her or his self-esteem, then over time that individual can be helped to come to believe that a) dyslexia is not a personal failing, b) things can get better, c) even some famous and successful writers have been dyslexic.
Thus what we have here is a list of possible changes that a child or teenager can be encouraged and helped to explore – remembering that they should only be looking at one or at most two issues at a time.
1: Have fun now.
Make sure that there is some time in each day for the dyslexic individual which is truly enjoyable. That does not mean spending all day playing a computer game (which itself in excess can be harmful in some situations), but ensuring that certain times really are great fun. These should not only be given as rewards (as in “you can do this when you have done your homework”) but because they are enjoyable in themselves.
2: Be aware that everyone has issues somewhere
This is not a case of saying, “others are worse off than you” but rather that there is no such thing as a person who has a perfect, happy life all the time. Make sure that each day some time is spent focusing on what makes the individual with dyslexia happy and reflect on that. Have a reflection time to think about the good bits of life every day.
3: Make a list of the good bits
This should not necessarily be a diary – dyslexic people don’t want to be pushed into yet more writing as a way of feeling better – but a simple list of the best bits of life. They can be just one word reminders of good moments, and they can be added to just occasionally. But as the list builds up it can be something that is worth looking back at.
4: Stop judging yourself
We are ourselves, and we have the ability to make ourselves more than we are. As a simple example, people who are happy invariably have more friends. So individuals who are suffering from (for example) anxiety because of dyslexia, need to find ways to increase their happiness day by day.
The message is therefore, “Think about yourself, think about others, think about happiness.” Thinking about our own life and how we can make it more enjoyable is difficult, and many people can’t do it, but if the right frame of mind is evolved, it can work.
5. Stop thinking about what you should be, but be happy to be you.
This idea involves letting go of what others say you should be, and instead having your own life which you enjoy and which makes you feel good about you. The dyslexic person accepts him or herself, finds the good points, and starts to make them grow.
This is of course complicated and long term. But that does not mean it should not be started now with tiny steps in the right direction. It can run alongside one or more of the earlier ideas which can be implemented in the short term.
Of course it is difficult – it is difficult for schools to do this as teachers have so many other children to deal with and so many other issues to focus on. It is difficult for us to do alone, because most of us get into a mindset and can’t escape. It is difficult because there is no prescription of how to do it.
But it can be done and every small step can make life much better for the dyslexic child or teenager.