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Building self esteem of children with dyslexia

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5427 words Published: 27th Apr 2017

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Learning is a lifelong process, regardless of our age, we all learn from different life circumstances. However, according to psychotherapist Carl Roger (1982), "The only learning which significantly influences behaviour is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning" (p.223). This type of learning allow one's to justify their beliefs through reflection (Dewey,1933). How one's perceive, interpret, remember and generalise a matter mentally has an effect on their virtual behaviour. Reflection helps an individual to dig deeper into their thought and search for meaning for each action. This reflective learning journal assignment intended to allow a better understanding of how my personal experience has impacted my personal, social and emotional development and how I can relate it to the development of the young souls. Hence, having a better awareness of their needs and promoting their growth in the three dimensions. In this assignment, I show my interests in the development of self in particular the development of self-esteem. This human phenomenon is worthy to be studied because of its practical value - it has a broad connection with both the positive and negative dimension of human behaviour. High self-esteem has been repeatedly linked to a better mental well being, better social relationships, more advanced ability in coping and a lower rate of depression (Murray, 2005 in low self-esteem predict poor, Shamir, 1986; Kaplan, Robbins & Martin, 1983; Turner & Roszell, 1994). Mruk (1999) mentioned in his book that by having a more thorough understanding of how self-esteem affect behaviour, it gives us a hope that one's behaviour can be influenced significantly by enhancing their self-esteem and it can bring a difference to the individual. In the first section, I write about the empirical and theoretical studies on self-esteem, how it operates and how I linked them to my own development of self esteem as I reflected through the learning journal. Uncovering my protective factors in enhancing my own self-esteem, I acknowledged the importance of family in shaping the self-esteem of young children.

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In the second section, I bring about how dyslexia impacted on children's self esteem, the risk factors for manifesting low self-esteem and the impacts of a low self-esteem development. There are different variables in determining the self-esteem of an individual. Nevertheless, 'In general, theories stress the importance of the individual's immediate social context - particularly the family in determining self-esteem" (Schneiderman, Furman, & Weber, 1989, p.222).

A growing numbers of frameworks were made available for educators in school settings to enhance children's self-esteem. Yet, I firmly believe family still play the core role in impacting young children development. I also recognised the significant for parents to engage their own self-development in order to have a better understanding of their child. Thus, the assignment concluded with an implication of how family might help their dyslexic child to build up their self-esteem despite all the risk factors available.

Section one:



"I think I set my pretentions at quite a realistic level. I normally aimed to be the best I can be rather than to be the best of all. This helps me to maintain a fair level of self esteem and avoid disappointment."

(My Learning Journal - Excerpt #2)

The complexity of self has caught up attention of philosophers for centuries, but it only began to be studied as a psychological construct since William James publication of his famous book Principle of Psychology in 1890. He was the first to define self-esteem and he described it as 'the ratio of our actualities to our supposed potentialities; a fraction of which our pretensions are the denominator and the numerator our successes.' (James, 1983, p.296) Being presented as a ratio, self-esteem may be fairly constant but it is also open to change. It denoted the importance of self-evaluation in life circumstances. How a situation is valued or affirmed within an individual affected ones self-esteem. Although self-evaluation is extremely important in determining one's self-esteem, we cannot undermine the influences of our environment. Hare and Castenell (1985) built upon James's formula and showed that self esteem deemed to derive from what is valued in ones society and culture. While we all have our own pretentions, other people's implicit or explicit expectations will still inevitably alter our original pretentions. As I reflected on this formula, I discovered I preserve my self-esteem by keeping my pretentions at a relatively lower level. At the same level of actual attainment, I can have a higher self-esteem with lower pretentions. I have a fear to set my goal too high as I doubt my ability in attaining them and I believed it will lower my self-esteem if I failed. Indeed, Pyszczynski et al (2004) added that regardless of the immense theories of self-esteem, the intrinsic concept is that people are impelled to maintain a high level of self-esteem and to defend against when their self-esteem is under threat.

Despite the vast amount of theories from different perspectives, psychologists today have gradually come to a consensus of a general construct of self. Lawrence (1987;1999) has arrived at a comprehensive explanation of the self, with self-concept being 'the sum total of an individual's mental and physical characteristics and his/her evaluation of them' (Lawrence, 1987, p.1), it consists of three aspects which include the cognitive (thinking); the affective (feeling) and the behavioural (action). It is also an awareness of an individual's identity. Self-concept is best described in an umbrella term consisting of the 'self-image (what the person is); ideal self (what the person would like to be) and self-esteem (what the person feels about the discrepancy between what he/she is and what he/she would like to be)'(Lawrence, 1987, p.2).

Self-image which is listed under self-concept is 'the individual's awareness of his/her mental and physical characteristics' (Lawrence, 1987, p.3). All our life experiences play a role in contributing our unique characteristics and it normally starts in the family. It began to develop since the day we are born. Our first concept of self-image is likely to be our attribute towards our own body-image, followed by our sex role and it gradually moved on to other identity we are entitled. Lawrence (1987) suggested that self-image can be enriched through life experiences and we can grow into the new role or construct. It is our initial understating towards self esteem. Cooley(1902) believed that self-image is derived from a 'looking glass self' which suggested that everyone takes on the characteristics or attributes people has for us and learns to perceive oneself based on how others perceive them to be.

Another process began to emerge at the same time as self-image, which is the ideal self. We develop it through learning the expectation people have for us, may it be our parents or the society. Our sense of social awareness rises as our exposure to the world increase. When we are grown, we have formed a set of values and aspirations that shaped the ideal self. It is a set of value which comprises the characteristics, behaviour or skills that an individual found it ideal to posses. It is opened to change as new pretentions may emerge during comparison. Lawrence (1987) suggested that this ideal self will continue to be pushed forward and there will only be more attainment to be achieved as life goes on. Just as self-image, ideal self commenced in the family and slowly progress to different aspects of life. It is inevitable to find a discrepancy between our self-image and our ideal self, but what it's important is our attitude towards the discrepancy which we called the self-esteem. He developed upon the definition by Coopersmith (1967) and defined self-esteem as an 'evaluation of the discrepancy between the self-image and the ideal self' (Lawrence, 1999, p.88). It is the feeling of one's own worthiness in general and it persists over time. An American psychologist, Abraham Maslow (1970) described self esteem as the higher needs within his hierarchy of needs. Maslow suggested that an individual must have their needs met at the lower level of hierarchy before they can proceed to a higher level of needs. He proposed that everyone has a need of self-esteem and esteem from others. If our need for self-esteem is satisfied, we develop our self-confidence, sense of worth, capability and adequacy. However, if this need is deprived, we inevitably feel inferior, weak and helpless.


Across the general body of research in self-esteem, massive amount is about the global self-esteem (Rosenberg 1979) which denoted the 'negative and positive attitude toward the self as a totality' (Rosenberg, Schooler, Schoenbach & Rosenberg, 1995). It is the overall feeling towards our own self-worth as a whole. Everyone has certain aspect in life they feel insecure and unconfident about, but their self-esteem in that particular area does not necessarily affect their overall global self-esteem. In Rosenberg et al (1995), with academic self-esteem as the tested specific self-esteem, they found that specific self-esteem need not correlate with global self-esteem directly. Specific self-esteem is more cognitive in nature and has a more direct link to behaviour or behavioural outcomes which deemed to be more critical. As for Global self-esteem, it was found to be more affective in nature and tends to be tied with individual's general psychological well being.

"being put in special class for maths in primary school has made me feel inferior in maths, I felt useless…..swimming was just a hobby, but my mum encouraged me to take it serious and began training. Later, having won several medals for the school, I felt more confident about myself..." (My Learning Journal, Excerpt #1)

The culture I am from valued a great deal on academic performance and maths is regarded as one of the core subjects in school, the repeated failure in maths tests has certainly impacted my confident in academic performance. However, I do not regard myself as having a particularly low global self-esteem. I believed I have built my self-esteem in other areas. My parents did not regard academic achievement the single most important element in life. They valued the building of my personal qualities and a balanced development. As I recalled, they have never really scolded me for my low marks in academic subjects. Just as what I have mentioned in my learning journal, my success in swimming has build up my confidence. Sport can be a good mediator in training one's mental strength. McAuley (1994) summed up from his wide range reviews that there is a positive correlation between doing exercise and self-esteem as well as the overall psychological well being. To attain good result, I must live a disciplined life and have a good state of mind to keep myself motivated to preserve. Looking back, swimming trained the strength of my mind as well as my body. In a competition, I would reassure myself to stay calm and focused, not to be distracted and just swim my best time. Wining the competition and be the best of all is certainly an obvious goal. However, having been to the vast amount of competitions has taught me it's impossible to win every time and there's always someone out there who is brighter. To maintain my self-esteem and motivation to go on, I somehow developed a thinking that it's better to be the best I can be. When setting goals in life, I would aim to be the best I can be. I may not be the best, but if I have tried my best, there is no regret at all; when facing difficulties in life, I remain calm and positive most of the time. While the achievement back then has boosted my self-esteem, giving me the capacity to face failure, the training behind the scene has shaped some of my personal qualities.


Looking back at my experiences, I managed to identify several protective factors that helped to enhance my global self-esteem.

Parental support

With a dyslexic brother, my parent learnt to be more sensitive in building up our self-esteem. I clearly recalled how my parent expectation for me changed after my brother was diagnosed with dyslexia. They gradually become more understanding, accepting and set realistic goals for me.

- Develop extra curriculum interests

My parents valued our non-academic achievements. My brother would go bird

watching with my father every week. As for me, I had painting lesson besides

swimming. While swimming has trained my discipline, art has provided me with

an opportunity to free my thoughts and be creative. The positive feedbacks I

have for my art work have further boosted my self-esteem.

Affirmative thinking

Saying self-affirmative message has helped me to regulate my emotions and reassure my own ability.

Being optimistic

Having an ultra optimistic mother, I learnt to be optimistic in all circumstances. When thing goes wrong, I would not ruminate for long on the thought that I failed, rather, I would actively start thinking what I can learn from it and how I can improve it.

Section two

Dyslexia and Self-esteem


'After watching the video "including Samuel", I immediately thought of my brother who is dyslexic. Although dyslexia is not a physical disability, it brought shock and challenges to our family. My brother is in the university now, but his self-esteem remains low despite his talent and abilities.' (Learning Journal)

Having a brother with dyslexia has heightened my awareness to special need education and I am particularly caught up with issues related to dyslexia. Dyslexia has always been a controversial topic. It brought about debate from its cause, definition, existence, diagnoses, assessment to intervention. There's no consensus towards a unified definition of dyslexia, but there's a general agreement that dyslexic has deficits at the level of phonological representation (Snowling, 2000). In most cases, despite having at least an averaged level intelligence, with no general learning difficulties and deprived learning opportunities, dyslexic shows difficulties acquiring basic skills to read, in particular the development of word identification and phonological decoding. It was estimated to have affected 10%-15% of school age children (Velluntino, 2004). Miles (1993) suggested that dyslexia would bring about difficulties to different degrees and have a wide range of effects on the reactions and performance on an individual's school career. Having seen my brother's displaying low self-esteem regardless of external reinforcement, I cannot agree more. The socio-cultural theory denoted the importance of the value holds from the society and culture on an individual's self-concept (Kozulin, 1998). In a modern society, literacy skills are highly valued. Having profound difficulties in reading, one's development of self is likely to be affected. Harrington and Hunter-Carsch (2001, p.129) even argued that 'the "disability" associated with dyslexia is largely constructed from the perceptions and social practices of others.' Throughout their development, they are at risk of failing school, being isolated or even bullied. All of which brought about stress, anxiety, anger and fear that has an immerse effect on their development of self. Their bad experience in school can bring disruptive result to their education. They may develop a distorted self-view and a pessimistic attitude towards life. These kind of believes can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and lead to a future expectation of failure (Riddick, 1996; Passé, 2006).


School life comprised significant portion of children's life. Being dyslexic, however, has endangered them from failing almost every part a school is designed for. Firstly, they experience failure in their academic performance. For dyslexics, their primary problems have been learning to read, write and spell, failing to perform these at a required level has inevitably leaded to failure in school. It can also be a public failure as school students are often required to read aloud, write on broad and react according to written or verbal instructions in the class. They are deemed to receive low marks in tests or examinations when their literacy skills are assessed. Miles (1993) mentioned some more difficulties faced by dyslexics at school including their forgetfulness, poor organization skills and for some of them having difficulties in mathematics. These all added to their mind that they are inferior to their peers and are incapable of meeting the basic expectation people have for them. If they came across teachers who failed to consider their special needs, it is not uncommon for them to experience humiliation (Edwards ,1994; Eaude ,1999), neglect and shame.

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Secondly, they failed to make friends in school. Poor academic performance can only serves as one of the reason for the unsatisfactory peer relationship. In some studies, students with mild disabilities like dyslexia were found to have less peer acceptance (Ochoa & Olivarez, 1995; Swanson & Malone, 1992) compared to students with more severe disabilities within an inclusive setting( Evans et al, 1992). Cook and Semmel (1999) linked these findings to a model of differential expectation which explained the behaviour. According to the model, students who have severe disabilities were expected to violate the modal standards because of their obvious different. In contrast, student who has mild disabilities were not seen to be significantly different from the norm and so they are expected to attain to a certain level of expectations. Therefore, when students with mild disabilities failed to attain the expectation people has for them, they are more likely to be rejected as they failed to meet the standard of the modal people think they should attain (Cook, 2001). These unexpected difficulties are equally puzzling for dyslexic themselves. Sociologist Erving Goffman (1968) described dyslexic as being marginalised. They may be seen as stupid or lazy having to perform poorly in academic; their clumsiness and poor social skills may also lead them to be seen at odds in the eyes of their peers. Worse comes to worse, dyslexic can even be bullied. Children with special needs are generally more prone to be bullied, to have few friends and to be rejected (O'Moore and Hillery, 1992; Marlew and Hodson, 1991).

The risk factors available have made dyslexics extremely vulnerable to a low self-esteem development. A large body of researches have linked dyslexics with a lower level of self-esteem (Riddick, 1995, 1996; Humphrey and Mullins, 2002a). Gjessing and Karlson (1989) carried a large scale study on Norwegian school children and found a lower level of self-esteem and a lack of confidence in the dyslexic subjects in contrast to other normal school children. Low self-esteem has also been linked to a poorer academic performance (Hawkins et al., 1992). Humphrey and Mullins (2002) proposed that there is a need for more grounded evidences from the psychological theories in investigating self-esteem in dyslexics. They examined the effect of self-esteem on their dyslexics' participants through exploring their attribution pattern, locus of control and learned helplessness. They found that dyslexics tend to attribute their successes and failures to uncontrollable factors and global rather than specific. They also added that 'the parallels between learned helplessness and children with reading difficulties are striking' (Humphrey & Mullins, 2002, p.197) with learned helplessness being a state where an individual experienced too many failures and they refused to put any more effort as a failure outcome is expected (Joiner and Wager, 1995). In addition, Butkowsky and Willows (1980) have found a different attribution styles between poor readers and good readers, with poor readers being more likely to attribute successes to luck and have a low expectation of doing well. Humphrey and Mullins concluded that dyslexia has a profound demonstrative negative effect on the self-esteem development of an individual.

Good peer relationships are very important for children. Having a good peer relationship in childhood was found to have a positive effect on social, behavioural and cognitive development in later life (Woodward and Ferguson, 2000). However, dyslexic children do not have good peer relationships in general and are at risk of being victimized by having bad academic performance, language difficulties and poor social skills (Coie & Cillessen, 1993; Hugh-Jones & Smith, 1999; Roberts & Zubrick, 1992). Toner and Munro (1996) found that individual who has been rejected in adolescent tend to attribute this believe in stable term and expect a future rejection. Connell and Wellborn (1991) and Skinner, Connell, and Wellborn (1990) proposed from their tested casual model that the peer relationship context an individual is in, that is whether they are rejected or accepted will have an effect on their self-concept or competence. It will then affect their engagement in class and possibly their academic achievement. Studies denoted that there are roughly 10% of students being bullied in school (Olweus, 1995; Smith, Shu, & Madsen, 2001). Nonetheless, the rate of children with learning disabilities being bullied were up to 83% ( Kaukiainen et al., 2002; Savage, 2005). Although this high percentage shown is debatable as percentage varies from studies and depends whether dyslexics were tested in a segregated unit or a mainstream setting. It is agreed that dyslexics are more prone to be bullied than the general population. Reviews have shown that children who were bullied have significantly lower level of global self-worth compared to children who were not bullied (Neary and Joseph, 1994; Rigby, 2002). Therefore, dyslexics are at an extra risk of suffering from a low self-esteem.


A good sense of self-esteem does not only serve to make one feels good about themselves, it also provides one to have the capacity to face or even overcome difficulties. People who have low self-esteem are at risk of having a distorted self-concept and are more susceptible to be impeded by life challenges (Frey & Carlock, 1989). Whether an individual is inclined to be an extrovert or introvert will also make a difference to their action. Hence, low self-esteem brings about divergent consequences for individuals by temperament. For those who are inclined to extroversion tend to compensate and act out in frustration. They may act as if they are confident and appears to be aggressive, arrogant and judgmental (Baumeister et al, 1996). In long term, low self-esteem have been linked to delinquency (Kaplan et al, 1986) and substance abuse (Kitano, 1989). For those who inclined to introversion tend to avoid and play a passive role in frustration. They are more likely to have maladaptive attribution and have a negative view towards one's ability and expectations. They may appear to be more passive with low motivation. In long term, they are susceptible to be affected by stress (Strauman, Lemieux, & Coe, 1993), linked to anxiety (Bednar et al, 1989) and depression (Harter, 1993). In sum, a low self-esteem can be damaging to an individual as it could bring about maladaptive thoughts, feelings and behavior towards oneself and others (Fennell, 1999).

Section three

Implication for practice


The arrival of dyslexia does not only affect the child himself/herself, it affects the family as a whole. Parents experience some kind of bereavement as they lost their sense of control, normality, expectation for their child and perhaps the child they thought they had (Staudacher, 1987). They would question all the expectations and values they used to hold bringing up the child. Some parents may feel shameful for they passed the 'bad gene' to their child, thinking that they should be responsible for the disability. A feeling of guilt may also arise as they might have mistreated the child because of the misunderstanding of their abilities before the diagnosis. Glazzard (2010) found from his semi-structured interview of nine secondary dyslexic students that the positive diagnosis of 'dyslexia' and the ownership of the label is the most determinant factor in building up their self-esteem. The negative interaction they had with people prior to their diagnosis appeared to be stressful and disruptive for their development of self-esteem.

Although it is almost inevitable to go through stages of bereavements, parents must recover from it as soon as possible as their doubts would make the child takes even longer to believe there is anything worthwhile in them (Sinason, 1993). Indeed, the feeling of worthlessness can be dreadful for the young soul and it could be disruptive to their development of self, having a false believe that they are not wanted anymore.

Like what I have mentioned in section two, with difficulties in reading and spelling being the prime effect of dyslexia, it is foreseeable for dyslexic to experience hardship in school where reading and spelling are highly valued. Being forced to face their weaknesses in school everyday can be a threat to the development of their self-esteem. In the modern society, more and more parents are working long hours and they are spending less time with their children. It is certainly a challenge for parents to make good use of their limited time to support the whole-self development of their children. While it is important for the school to implement a whole school policy and raise the awareness of a dyslexia friendly environment, family plays an irreplaceable role that can serve to counterbalance the threatened self-esteem development of their child. Although we have to admit that as age increases, the influence of family ought to reduce and be replaced by alternate significant people in life. Nonetheless, it is well documented that family has a significant impact on their children during their development. According to Cooley's view (1902), parental supports have an effect on children's self-esteem because of the reflected appraisal. Self appraisal develops as people see themselves as how they think others see them, especially people they found significant. Parents happened to be the most significant figures to their children in most cases and so their supportive behavior is crucial to the development of self-esteem in their children (Felson and Zielinski, 1989).

There are many cross-sectional studies that suggested a positive parent-child relationship will lead to higher self-esteem in children (Gecas, 1971 ; Openshaw, Thomas & Rollins, 1984). Coopersmith (1967) have shown that children who exhibited a higher level of self-esteem appeared to have more intimate relationships with their parents than children who have lower self-esteem. However, it is hard to generate a casual relationship in cross-sectional studies since there could be a cohort effect and age difference does not necessarily represent developmental change. Zigler, Lamb, and Child (1982) argued that children would not only be influenced by their experiences passively, they actively shape the environment they are in. While children who have more supportive parents seem to display higher self-esteem, it could also be the case that children with higher self-esteem behave better and provide an environment where it is easier for parents to respond accordingly. In Zigler et al (1982) four years longitudinal study between self-esteem and parental support, they found an effect of self-esteem on parental support that confirmed their argument. Parental supports are extremely crucial for a high self-esteem development of their children.


Having to know how important parents can be in building up self-esteem of their children at home and yet how difficult it is for them to cope and support their child with special needs, it is essential for professional to provide sufficient resources and guidance for parents to support their child the best they can. For dyslexics, their primary problem put them at risk of a negative impact on their academic self-esteem. However, like it was mentioned earlier that one's specific self-esteem does not always link directly to one's global self-esteem, it is possible to preserve their global self-esteem. Indeed, this should be one of the goals for parents and teachers in supporting children with dyslexia. To date, most of the reports on the outcome of interventions for dyslexia concentrate on the improvement of their academic achievement without taking into account the psychological factors. In order to achieve a better intervention outcome, Riddick et al (1999) suggested that it is important to recognize dyslexics who have low self-esteem as well as high anxiety so that appropriate support can be given.

Reasoner and Dusa (1991) identified five essential components of self-esteem being the sense of security, identity, belonging, purpose and personal competence. In helping children with dyslexia to build up their self-esteem, these five elements must be attended. They regarded the building up process as sequential and suggested that children must attain a sense of security and identity to begin with. When one has acquired certain level of self-understanding, they can proceed to another stage and learn to function in a group accordingly. After they attained a sense of belonging from the group, they start building up their sense of purpose by setting goals. As they receive positive reinforcement and repeat success, they will gradually develop their sense of personal competence and manifesting a high self-esteem. They claimed that 'the easiest way to change a child's behavior is to change that child's self-image.' (1991, p.21) By reinforcing the positive traits in the child, the child will come to realize their positive traits and act upon it to conform to the new positive self-image. Accordance to these logic, I gathered up a few points that worth particular attention in enhancing dyslexic children's self-esteem.

First of all, it is important for parents to recognize their own self-esteem and model as a high self-esteem being for modeling. Self image and ideal self both started in the family at an early age and so parents are at a good position to help enhancing self-esteem of their child. Satir (1972) put forward the importance of high self-esteem within the family for a positive communication. She noted that if an individual valued one's own self-worth, it is more likely for them to treat another person in respect and love. Bednar et al (1989) pointed out that parents imposed an undeniable influence over their children and their expression of their own resolution for problems sometimes tells more than their verbal teaching of how one should react in challenging situation. It is essential for parents to set themselves as a role model with high self-esteem so as to raise their children with such qualities (Curran, 1983). Indeed, Coopersmith (1967) has found a positive link between self-esteem levels of mother and their children. Parents must present as a role model for their children displaying high self-esteem.

Secondly, parents must show their warmth, respect and acceptance towards their child. As identified by Coopersmith (196), parental attitude can carry a determinative role in their children's development of self-esteem. Parents can show their support through praising, showing affection and being attentive to th


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