Building self-esteem in children with learning difficulties

How to inspire confidence in your dyslexic child?

How dyslexia relates to your child’s self-esteem is a very important topic to consider. Constantly underperforming in relation to their peers can start to have a negative impact on your dyslexic child’s self-esteem. This is something that may be challenging to build back up, so it's important that your child is aware that their dyslexia is not related to their intelligence. 


Did you know that children who are "poor readers" are more at risk of development emotional troubles like depression, anxiety, fear of school and social exclusion? This shows how important it is to work on instilling confidence and building up self-esteem for children who struggle with reading.

Where to start?


Celebrate the small wins, such as a good score on their homework that they worked hard on, a test result that they are happy with, or finding a hobby they feel happy doing. This will help them with their self-awareness - they may begin to focus on what they are good at instead of their challenges and difficulties. 


Helping them set a few realistic goals is also a good way to find success in an encouraging way. Make sure they are individual and are aligned with their specific skill set. And they don’t always have to be reading related, it can also be related to a subject at school, a new skill, or even a hobby. The focal point should not only be the goal itself, but also the perseverance and effort that goes into reaching the goal. 

Building confidence together

Many studies have shown how parental involvement has a positive effect on academic achievement. Increased engagement and a positive attitude to a child’s academic performance helps to increase their self-perception of cognitive competence, or in other words, the belief that they have the necessary skills to be successful with academic tasks like reading and writing. 


But academic achievement is not the only factor of success. Building up confidence and self-esteem is a very significant part of a child’s development, and parental involvement is definitely a large part of that. 


Spending time reading and doing homework together can help them feel worthwhile by communicating acceptance, acknowledgement, and admiration, all of which boosts their self-esteem and confidence. Of course, the balance between getting involved and letting them figure things out on their own can be just as important for their self realisation. It can nevertheless be beneficial to acknowledge their worries about dyslexia and reading difficulties by showing them that you are in it together. 

Mindfulness and other self-esteem activities for children with dyslexia

There are a lot of more general ways to boost self-esteem that can be applied to address some of the more specific challenges dyslexics face with their self-esteem.

Dyslexic children tend to experience a lot of stress at school and sometimes even express they feel anxious in class, especially when they need to read aloud in front of their peers. One popular method for addressing stress and anxiety is practicing mindfulness. It can be daunting, as we all tend to associate mindfulness with hours of meditation in complete silence. But the truth is, mindfulness, just like riding a bike, is a skill that can be trained. Taking a small amount of time in their day, over time they can learn how to focus on the present moment by drawing awareness to their breath, bodily sensations, and environment. 


Mindfulness is also shown to help with attention and focus. There has even been a study on how mindfulness helps dyslexic readers by improving their focus and ability to stay on a lexical route, the process of recognising words and their phonological sounds through a ‘mental database’ or lexica. In other words, mindfulness made it easier for the reader to identify words they already knew, and to correctly read them aloud (e.g. how read is pronounced as both red and reed depending on the context of the sentence). 


Not sure where to start with mindfulness? Guided meditation is a simple and easy way to get started, and there are a lot of programmes, online videos, podcasts, and apps that are available. 


Practising gratitude with children who face learning difficulties

Another method for boosting self-esteem is practicing gratitude. It’s a very simple but impactful practice, and is especially useful when your child is exposed to a lot of negative emotions that might reduce their sense of self worth. The focus of practicing gratitude is to divert focus away from negative thoughts by encouraging them to reflect on positive experiences. It’s as simple as asking your child questions like:


  • What are you thankful for today?

  • What is one thing that made you smile today?

  • What made you happy today?

  • What is something that you are proud of?


Gratitude is not about ignoring negative emotions, and it is still crucial that children are able to express any fear, anger, or frustration that they experience so that these emotions can be acknowledged and processed together. However, once negative emotions have been addressed, practicing gratitude can help to shift their attention to more positive experiences and memories, building healthy and positive thought patterns. It can take a lot of effort, especially when your child feels overwhelmed. Just like mindfulness, practicing gratitude is a skill and a habit that needs to be trained. In fact, since these practices go hand-in-hand, it is also helpful to do them together. 


Do you have any more tips and suggestions for improving your dyslexic child’s self-esteem and confidence? We are always looking to expand our resources, so any comments or even testimonials  can be a lot of help!


How can you help them develop a passion for reading?

If your child struggles with reading, there is a high likelihood that they will associate negative emotions with reading. This can develop into more avoidant behaviour, such as hiding when they know it’s reading time, or even wanting to skip\ reading-based classes. One solution will be to try and create more positive associations with reading. Here are a few suggestions of how you can do that. 

Create the right environment for reading

If you want to start building their confidence and motivation to read, you can try to create a good environment for reading. This can be simple changes, like setting up reading spots around the house, leaving books in accessible places, and making sure the books you buy are both a topic that interests them, and is appropriate for their reading level. Setting a reading routine is also helpful; once they get used to short regular reading sessions at a specific time of day, it can also make it less of a disruption, and more of a habit. 

Set an example

If your child sees you enjoying your reading time, they might start to get a little more interested in reading themselves. To make it a little scientific, children learn by imitating, so if they see their primary caregiver is enjoying an activity, they will be more likely to try it out too, and enjoy it as well. 

The power of curiosity

Curiosity is a powerful emotion, and has been linked to greater academic achievement in maths and reading in children of primary school age. You can try to inspire the joy of discovery by using the element of surprise. One tip would be to wrap books in paper, and use a few words to describe them, and let them pick one book to see if they are more motivated to read what’s inside. You can also try creating a small mystery box for each book, filled with small objects and hints relating to what the book is about.

Ask their opinion 

Get them to write (or just tell you if they aren’t comfortable with writing) a small book review after they are finished with a book. To make it easier for them, you can prompt them with simple questions like:


  • How would you rate this book, from 1 to 5

  • What was your favourite part of the book?

  • What was your least favourite part? 


When children are asked about their opinion, it makes them feel like their contribution matters, and that you are genuinely interested in their ideas and what they have to say. This has the potential to strengthen and develop their self-image and esteem, and may be helpful to create a more positive attitude towards reading.

Create a book club with their peers

If you know of any other children in your area that are also struggling with reading, why not create a small book club? Book clubs can be helpful in creating a reading-friendly environment, and by involving other children with reading difficulties and dyslexia, they may be able to motivate each other to continually develop and strengthen their reading skills. 

Don’t forget about graphic novels and comics!

Graphic novels and comics can be a huge benefit for dyslexic and struggling readers, as they offer several cues to what is going on in the story. If the reader is struggling with a specific word or sentence, the illustrations can provide some additional context to the story, helping them decipher the stories more easily. It’s also a great way to develop vocabulary, as it can be easier for some people to remember complex words that have a visual cue attached to them. The visual format is also something that can add to the excitement of reading, and definitely can make it a positive experience.

Finding the right approach to encouraging reading is a process of trial and error, so if something doesn’t work, don’t get too discouraged. There are plenty of methods out there to get them reading, and don’t hesitate to ask them what they think about reading, and what could make it a more positive experience for them.