Rebuilding your Dyspraxic Child’s Self-Esteem

What is Developmental Dyspraxia? According to the Dyspraxia Foundation:
Developmental dyspraxia is an impairment or immaturity of the organization of movement. It is an immaturity in the way that the brain processes information, which results in messages not being properly or fully transmitted. The term dyspraxia comes from the word praxis, which means 'doing, acting'. Dyspraxia affects the planning of what to do and how to do it. It is associated with problems of perception, language and thought. Children with dyspraxia may have difficulties with reading and spelling. Limited concentration and poor listening skills, and literal use of language may have an effect on reading and spelling ability. Poor handwriting is one of the most common symptoms of dyspraxia. A child may read well, but not understand some of the concepts in the language. The child may also be reluctant to read aloud because of articulation difficulties or because they lack self-confidence.

How does this impact your child’s self-esteem? Children realize far before we think they do how they measure up to their peers. Constantly trying to emulate others from birth that imitation does not stop when they reach school age; always looking to others to compare if they are really getting it. In fact, children with Dyspraxia may actually use this as a strategy to ensure they have understood what is being told to them. So their lacks of abilities are usually very apparent to them first.

Our daughter began telling us at a very young age she couldn’t do things. We continually praised and encouraged her in spite of her negative self-impression. We never treated her differently than her brother, and we felt we were doing all we could to help her maintain a healthy level of confidence.

Much to our surprise, that level of confidence was slipping away like grains of sand in an hour glass. We began to notice at 7 years of age her frustration when her peers would accomplish skills faster than she. Later, she began to call herself stupid, and she suddenly hated things that she once was truly excited about. This began our long road to rebuilding something we could not measure in inches or feet; we had to measure it one success at a time. For every negative word she heard or body language she would interpret it would take us at least a hundred positive words to convince her she could do great things.

Our first step in rebuilding was discussing Developmental Dyspraxia with her and what it meant. She asked questions such as “How did I get it?” and “Will it go away?” We found that answering these questions directly with simple honest answers allowed her to comprehend what we were saying and secure with the information; she now could give a reason to why she couldn’t do things as easy as her friends, and she realized it had nothing to do with her perception of smart and stupid.

Secondly, as most parents would do, we poured on the praise. Thinking we were doing a good job before, we quickly evaluated what we were praising and why. We became mindful not to give her a false sense of confidence. When she was younger we didn’t address her disability afraid it would cause her to feel defeated before she even started, adding to her self-esteem issues. We have since discovered it actually was doing exactly what we’d hoped to avoid. Children know when they are good at something and when they are not. If we lead them to believe that they are good at everything, and they realize they are not, we are no longer credible. We had to remember that everyone wants to know when they have done a good job, but they want to know they earned the praises. Giving our daughter a balance of praise and suggestions on improvement has helped her become more confident and not so hard on herself when she does not succeed.

Thirdly, and I believe this was the most difficult one for me; I had to learn to let go a little. My daughter is now 10 years old, and I have often felt like I was inside a fine china store anticipating the moves of and elephant. For as far back as I can remember I have made it my mission to anticipate and prepared her and myself for potential problems or change. I am now learning that some her best lessons, and times when she has felt the most confident, is in failing and succeeding all on her own. I believe it is for her the feeling of knowing that no one, absolutely no one helped her beat the odds but herself. My daughter is floundering down this road as we both get used to this new way of life. She is anticipating my rescue, and when I delay she begins to give up, but when I give her the little nudge of encouragement, back onto the path she goes, and pushes through and shines with pride at her success and now with every success, I see the hesitation to return after defeat isn’t nearly as long.

I encourage you not to get too disheartened when your child is struggling. All children disabled or not struggle, and it is through the struggles, love and acceptance of their family and friends that they become the amazing adults we had hoped for.