Jay Blades, from the BBC One “Repair Shop” programme, was talking on the television last weekend about his battle with dyslexia. Faced with the challenge throughout his childhood he has never learnt to read or write. He was describing how this had, to some extent, impacted on his life and particularly noted the fact he had never read his daughter a bedtime story. Instead he would make the stories up as he turned the pages and looked at the pictures. Recently he has promised himself that he will learn to read and has even pledged to read his grown-up daughter a story.
Dyslexia is a neurological difference and can have a significant impact during education, in the workplace and in everyday life. Just as each person is unique, so is everyone's experience of dyslexia. Differences can range from mild to severe and it can co-occur with other learning differences. It usually runs in families and is a life-long condition.
What struck me most from the interview with Jay Blades was his determination and self-belief. He must have had many knocks in the past and frequently bowed to the pressure of failure with his reading and writing. Yet here was a man who had not only set himself a goal but in so doing was not accepting his limitations. To boost our self-esteem, we need to identify the negative beliefs we have about ourselves and then challenge them.
Another example of self-belief comes from cricket aficionado Dean du Plessis, who is the first visually impaired commentator to cover international cricket. He says, "I have a feed from the stump microphone, no other technology, and just listen very, very carefully; as much as sighted people pay close attention to what they're seeing, that's what I do." Du Plessis is able to identify the bowler from the way they approach the crease. He can also determine which batter is on strike through the sound of their voice, and the direction in which the ball is hit by the noise it makes off the bat.
Both men demonstrate an inner confidence in their abilities; self-belief. How do we encourage our children to believe more in their capabilities? As parents we might consider it best to shower them with compliments, like handing out sweets as a reward so that they feel good about themselves. But is that the best way? Jim Taylor, author of the book “Your Kids Are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You” believes we must learn to step back and let our children take risks, make choices, solve problems and stick with what they start.
Taylor suggests that self-esteem comes from feeling loved and secure, and from developing competence. Becoming good at things takes time and effort. “If you keep telling your child she is already doing a fantastic job, you’re saying she no longer needs to push herself. But confidence comes from doing, from trying and failing and trying again—from practice.”
Another way to boost self-belief in children is to encourage them to take on tasks they show interest in, then make sure they follow through to completion. It does not matter what the task is. It could be anything from swimming laps to beating levels in video games. The point is for them to stick with what they start, so they feel that hit of accomplishment at the end.
Here are some principles that the Canadian Mental Health Association recommends to help raise confident, not overprotected, children:
- Feel special. It is important to help children discover their own unique talents and qualities, and to value their own strengths. However we must also teach them that feeling special does not mean feeling better than others.
- Set goals. Teach your children to work towards a goal and to have pride in their accomplishments. Provide them with opportunities for success.
- Try, try again. Encourage your child to try things their own way, face challenges and take risks.
“Without self-belief, nothing can be accomplished. With it, nothing is impossible.” (Felix Dennis)