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Five Ways to Boost Your Child's Self-Esteem

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Children with special needs are often bad at feeling good about themselves. Living with a disability, forced on a daily basis to see how their bodies or brains don't work like everybody else's, they may develop low self-esteem and a can't-do attitude. Parents sometimes contribute to that by focusing on the negative, pushing too hard, or coddling too much. Here are five ways to give your child's self-esteem a boost while also making yourself a more creative, flexible and effective parent.

1. Say more positive things to your child each day than negative ones.

African American girl frowning in living room
Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

It's easy to get caught up in criticism and correction, but if all your kid hears about is what he's doing wrong, he might begin to believe he can never do anything right. Give as much emotion, energy and attention to the good or just not-bad things your child does as to the bad ones. If necessary, set up situations specifically to give yourself an excuse to praise your child. Frequent smiles and hugs can go a long way, too.

2. Find something your child loves to do.

You're always going to have to spend a certain amount of time pushing him or her to do things that are hard and frustrating and discouraging, but everyone needs to spend some time doing things that are fun and fulfilling and empowering, too. If your child has a hobby or a special interest, encourage that (without taking over entirely). Even if all they like to do is listen to music or watch TV, you can discuss their likes and dislikes and give kids a chance to "show off" their knowledge.

3. Give your child responsibilities.

This can be hard to do for children with special needs, who may not be able to follow through on normal chores. But with a little imagination, you can find small but important jobs from which your child can get a sense of contributing to the family without risking failure or blame. It can be as simple as putting a clean trash bag in an empty can, bringing the newspaper inside, making sure lights are turned off, or sorting recyclables. Having a "job" of any sort is a self-esteem booster.

4. Consider school placement carefully.

Many parents worry that being in special education, especially in a self-contained class, will damage their child's self-esteem. But being in a class that is too challenging, or one in which the child perceives herself as the stupidest student, can be damaging as well. Listen to your child when he talks about how school feels, and be ready to do what's needed to find the right fit. Most of all, be sure you aren't determining placement based on your self-esteem, not your child's.

5. Spend time with your child

Whether you play games, take walks, have long bedtime chats, or just snuggle in front of the TV, spending time with your kids shows them that you value their company. If you give the better part of your attention to work or personal interests -- even to learning about your child's disability or being an advocate -- your child may feel that he or she is not important or deserving of your time. A little time and attention from a parent can pay off big ... even if kids act like they don't care.
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