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Guide to Improving the Self-Esteem of Children with Disabilities

Posted on July 13, 2019 by Ann

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Martha is a 30 year old adult with moderate intellectual disability, and attends a Training & Development Centre. She often refuses to participate in new activities and would physically resist stepping into new surroundings or environments. On a few occasions during lunch break, the training officer noticed that her peers would demand that she gives them some of her food. Martha would readily hand over her food to them. 

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem refers to what we think about ourselves. However, this simple term can play a huge role in your child’s life.

An individual with a healthy self-esteem usually displays the following behaviours:

• Feels good about himself/herself.

• Has the courage to try out new things.

• Respects himself/herself.

• Has an easier time in handling conflicts and resisting negative influences.

The above characteristics are not exhaustive and serve as some examples of behaviours exhibited by an individual with high self-esteem. A healthy self-esteem acts as a shield against life’s challenges and drives an individual to make good choices in life.

A major portion of an individual’s self-esteem is shaped by the environment and the people he interacts with. Hence, you have a major role in helping your child build up a healthy self-esteem.

How do I increase my child’s self-esteem?

1. Let your child know how they can contribute

Put your child in charge of meaningful tasks such as grocery shopping, watering the plants, and setting the table for dinner.

In Martha’s case, it would help if she was allowed to prepare ingredients for her own lunch.

2. Develop your child’s strengths and interests

Learn and develop your child’s strengths and interests. For example, his interest could be in arts and crafts or music. This will help your child build up his/her self confidence.

3. Structure tasks and environments

Set small and achievable steps for your child that contributes to the final goal.

In Martha’s case, she could be presented with new activities and environments in a structured and simple manner to allow her to better familarise herself with them.

4. Constantly motivate your child to solve problems

Engage your child in role-playing and model appropriate actions that he should adopt in social situations. (e.g. how to respond to disputes and how to say no)

5. Share successes as a family

Sit down together with your child in the evenings and talk about the good things that happened to him/her during the day. This will increase his/her self-esteem and encourage your child to believe that s/he is capable of achieving success.

6. Develop a good self-image

It is important that your child adopts a healthy lifestyle and looks presentable to others. Getting positive feedback from those around him/her will increase the child’s self-esteem.

In Martha’s case, people around her could help by showering her with compliments such as “You look pretty in this dress” or “I like how you tie your hair so neatly”.

7. Make your child feel good

Praise your child immediately after s/he displays positive behaviours. Praises can be in the form of a smile or gestures (e.g., thumbs-up, high-fives, or pats ont he back).


MINDS is an All In Preferred Partner.

Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) is one of the largest Voluntary Welfare Organisations in Singapore, serving some 2,400 clients from past the age of six to their ripe old age. MINDS’ services include four special schools, three employment development centres, three day training and development centres, and one multi-service residential home.

This guide was originally published by MINDS’ Allied Health Professionals unit and republished with minor editorial amendments by All In.

All content found on the All In website, has been created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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