We all want to feel confident. Confident in who we are, what we believe, and in what we do. For some people, confidence seems to be a part of their DNA. I wish I was one of those people. I admit, I’m not the poster child for it. In my teens, and in the hurricane that is middle school, I probably lost myself a few times and chose to be a wallflower. Insecurity seems like a rite of passage for us all at some point in our formative years and I was not immune to its wrath.
Probably because of my own struggles, I was determined to make sure my kids felt confident in themselves (Cue the self-help/parenting books….I’ve read them all). I did it all: praising, affirming, supporting, encouraging, trying new things, staying involved in their interests, nurturing their creativity, staying positive. I was in for all of it! And it worked….at first. I can “confidently” say all three of my kids started Kindergarten with good self-esteem. They didn’t doubt their abilities. They felt confident in their abilities. ENTER DYSLEXIA.
I wish I could say they remained solid in who they were and believed the hype that they could be ANYTHING! But they didn’t. Even with all my effort, I couldn’t avoid the slow decline of their confidence. With each child, I saw shifts in how they viewed themselves and it broke my heart. Now, I know confidence and self-esteem are developed from more than just academics, but their learning difficulties played a major part in their regression. With every new year and new academic challenge, I saw them begin to falter. And I couldn’t do anything to stop it. Here are some things I’ve experienced with my kids and my nephew in no particular order (and maybe some of you have had similar experiences with your own kids):
- Refusing to read aloud (even at home). Instead choosing to read silently to himself.
- Recognizing in 1st grade that his friend never even studied and got 100% on spelling tests, while he had to study every night to pass the test, only to forget how to spell all the words by Monday.
- In 2nd grade Cannon started interventions. He was horrified about being pulled out of class (more so than most kids his age). He just “knew” his friends thought he was dumb because they kept asking him where he was going (probably only happened a few times). My solution: “tell them you’re going to spy class with no explanation.” By the end of the year, all of his friends wanted to go to spy class too. It worked! But only for a year.
- AR reading….enough said. For a kid that struggles to read, it’s defeating to hear how many points your friends have.
- Million Word Club…see above
- Using audiobooks while others read books only made them feel like they stand out even more in class. So they would refuse the audio option and read (suffer) in silence pretending to comprehend.
- Academic Awards….. It’s hard to see your friends with all their certificates and medals as you walk out empty-handed. (Side note: I believe those kids should be celebrated, 100%! I have one of those kids too. Just in a more sensitive way to those that aren’t receiving awards. I’m forever thankful to the teachers who handed them out in a sealed envelope rather than individually…. and everyone got an envelope).
- Cannon describes himself, matter-of-factly…”I’m not one of the smart kids”
- “I have to do this because I’m dumb.”
- Avery dreaded library day because she had to get a book on her level and she couldn’t get the same color books her friends were getting. She started asking if she could go before school.
- Cannon’s weekly papers went missing. I would find them torn into pieces in the bottom of his backpack, often with the grade scribbled out.
- Avery begged to watch Harry Potter out of the blue. After the movie, she said, “I wanted to watch so I can understand what my friends are talking about. They’ve already read 3 of the books so I only have two more movies to watch to catch up.”
- If you ask Avery what she wants to be when she grows up, she’ll say an artist. I love it! But at The Morris Center, she’s made it clear that she doesn’t see herself going to college because she’s not smart enough. She was shocked to hear some artists actually attend COLLEGE!
- If homework involves writing, Avery will ask me to spell every word rather than even trying to write because she doesn’t want to make a mistake.
- In 3rd grade, my girl who has loved school since the first day of pre-school was suddenly crying and begging me not to take her, saying, “It’s too hard. It’s too much. I can’t do it.”
- We left for Florida 2 weeks before school ended for the year. Avery: “mom, you know the one thing I’m sad about the school year being over for me? I never made it to the blue group. You know, with all my friends. That’s the smart group. I was just in the middle group.”
- Brady was late to after-school tutoring every day. Upon investigation, we learned he was hiding in the hallway to wait for his friends to leave the room so they didn’t know he was staying for tutoring.
- In middle school it’s embarrassing for Cannon to have to take standardized tests in a “special room” so it can be read to him. He asked to just stay in the classroom.
HERE’S THE GOOD NEWS….. Since arriving at The Morris Center, confidence is growing! Self-doubt is fading and growth is happening! You couldn’t have a more affirming environment. I’m not talking about over-the-top, cheesy praise. This is given matter-of-factly. They started by offering praise while telling them what they did correctly/good. Now they are empowering them to praise themselves, by verbally acknowledging what they did good/correctly. They are teaching them to believe in themselves and to feel confident in their work. The staff asks questions like, “are you sure that’s right?’ Not because it’s wrong. They ask it to teach our kids to confidently stick with their answers. Their overall demeanors have changed from serious/hesitant/sad/frustrated to relaxed/silly/engaged/energetic. Other things:
Cannon…. Cannon is reading books ON HIS OWN, during his break time, and saying he LIKES them. This is huge considering I’ve NEVER seen him read by his own free-will.
Avery…. we are hearing more positive self-talk from her. She is enjoying reading. We took a picture of her in front of the Fine Arts Building at the University of Florida and told her she may end up going to college there. When her dad asked about it this week, she said, “but Dad, I’m a Razorback!”
Brady…. he can tell this is helping and reading is getting easier. He’s proud of his progress. He’s reading signs along the road for the first time ever and he’s reading the words on his video games.
Small things make a HUGE difference. They all see how the small steps they’ve mastered are helping to make learning easier. Things that were hard before are easier now. They like observation days when they get to show us all the progress they are making. They are PROUD of themselves. Every day we see their confidence grow. Hoping that continues and they all begin to see just how amazing and SMART they have always been.