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Self-Esteem in Special Needs Kids

Self-esteem could very well be considered the foundation of leading a healthy and successful life. The story we tell about ourselves paves the way toward the opportunities we take, the relationships we engage in and the job roles we end up with. Self-esteem is learned, a culmination of our failures, our successes and how the people we look up to responded to these.
As a parent or guardian, you probably already understand the role you play in your child's self-esteem. Through consistent encouragement and praise, you hope to build up your child's esteem over time, giving him or her the ability to try without the fear of failure.
But what you may not be aware of is how your role in your child's self-esteem differs if you're the parent of someone with special needs. Because special needs children can face a broad spectrum of challenges, from emotional to learning, things aren't always as simple as providing encouragement and praise.


The first step to building your special child's self-esteem is acceptance. By accepting his or her abilities, you're able to provide a vital cornerstone for confidence. This critical step is oftentimes a challenge for many parents, especially for those of kids who are differently abled. The line between pushing your child and accepting who they are tends to be fine and a little blurred. This line is especially difficult to recognize early on when you first begin to notice the differences between your child and his peers. Are the tantrums a sign of disability or disobedience? As any seasoned parent will tell you, regardless of why, it's important to know when to pick your battles.
By giving up some of your desire for control, you'll soon find the line between pushing and accepting come into focus. Once it does, you'll know when to challenge your child and when to accept his or her limits. Accepting your child's limits provides an unspeakable amount of confidence.

Focus on the Strengths

Once you understand your child's limits, focus on the strengths. Like all children, special needs kids don't excel in everything. By steering your focus toward situations where your kid already thrives, you're setting him or her up for success instead of failure. Whether your child is great at math-related activities or is emotionally advanced, giving them opportunities to highlight these skills builds confidence.


All kids love having their own responsibilities. Completing assigned tasks not only establishes a secure routine for your child to thrive in, it also provides the opportunity for pride to grow. The key to handing out responsibilities is to start early and to be realistic. Give your child responsibilities that fall in lines with his or her abilities and strengths, whether that's organizing or helping out in the kitchen.
Like all kids, your special needs child will prefer certain responsibilities over others. As a parent, it's your job to convince your child that all assigned responsibilities are worth accomplishing.

Shift Focus

Your child may not enjoy cleaning, but what about separating colors, stacking objects or singing and dancing? Instead of giving your child the responsibility of cleaning, give the responsibility of stacking or separating, or turn the task into a game, song or dance.


No matter how you envision the responsibility scenario unfolding in front of you, it's important to provide praise in the end. This is especially important for children who are handling responsibility for the first time. Over time, it's natural to come to expect more, but keep in mind that trying also counts.

Positive Reinforcement

The idea behind positive reinforcement is to help your child associate good behaviors with rewards. While negative reinforcement can initially appear to give children structure while modifying bad behavior, this type of reinforcement is guaranteed to come with backlash. One of the backlash effects of negative reinforcement over time, is the effect it has on self-esteem. Negative reinforcement leads to anxiety, insecurity, depression and anger.

Positive reinforcement techniques vary and should depend on how your child prefers to interact with the world. Some children thrive on physical affection such as hugs or kisses, while others would consider these a punishment. As a parent, you will know what positive rewards your child enjoys the most.

Appropriate positive reinforcement methods include verbal praise, sticker charts, hugs, trips to the toy store, extra time for activities your child prefers to engage in and, depending on age, money.
Food is never an appropriate positive reinforcement because it draws an association between feeling good and eating. Food is nourishment and can be fun, but it should never be withheld or used to reward.

Spend Some Time

You don't need to be the parent of a special needs child to know that spending quality time doing the things he or she loves is a great and simple way to build self-esteem. By showing your kids that they are worth your undivided attention simply by being themselves, you are building trust and self-assurance while establishing healthy expectations for all of their future relationships. This simple way of boosting confidence is as easy as putting down your phone or closing your laptop for an hour after work, eating dinner together, taking a trip to the playground or cuddling while reading.