Dyslexia and Self-Esteem

Posted on 2nd February, 2024, under Research

Dyslexia is a word used to describe a learning disability that commonly affects reading, writing and related skills, such as the use of language, articulation and grammar. However, this blog will not examine reading, writing or language use. Instead, it highlights the impact of dyslexia on self-esteem. Understanding how dyslexia impacts educational outcomes is extremely useful to an adult in supporting a child’s learning, but what about the internal well-being of the child? The purpose of discussing self-esteem is to understand one of the many learning challenges associated with dyslexia that are often overlooked, “the child’s sense of self”.

Defining Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is a word used to describe a category of varied and complex mental processes that influence how we think and feel about ourselves and others. It has many definitions; the definition we will work with today is:

“Self-esteem is the summary judgement of the collected separate assessments of one’s self-meaning, self-identity, self-image, and self-concepts”

(Bailey, 2003, p.393)

As children grow, they will encounter moments of both low and high self-esteem because life is challenging, and it would be unusual always to feel you are at the top of your game. Self-esteem can be affected by how we think about and judge ourselves in relation to others; negative self-talk will bring us down, and positive self-talk will bring us up. Low self-esteem can develop from continuously failing in school assignments, feeling you will never be the one in your class who gets an award for achievement or failing to score a goal in a football match. It can also be influenced by negative verbal interactions, for example, being told you are not good enough. High self-esteem can be developed by acknowledging you showed up, you tried your best and next time, you might do even better.

A Child’s Worth

If a child is given a task and it is not completed according to the expectations of the task giver (parent, teacher, friend), it can result in the child being told, “That was a poor effort”. In contrast, the child may be told, “Don’t worry, you tried your best; better luck next time”. Our interactions with children can significantly impact their self-image, self-worth and how they pass value judgements on themselves.

Dyslexia and Self-Esteem

The child with dyslexia is often behind others in the class when it comes to reading and writing. In writing, it can be challenging to spell correctly; even when you know the spelling, you can place the letters unknowingly in the wrong order on the page. Reading is slow and tiring; it takes time and focus, and some children will need to reread a passage several times before the message is processed. The child understands they are slower at learning than some of their peers, but they have little control over how to improve their skills. The effort it takes some children to keep up with their peers can negatively impact self-esteem.

What Can We Do to Strengthen Self-Esteem?

The good news is there are many things you can do today to develop self-esteem, starting with being attentive to your self-talk. Model positive self-talk, no more saying, “I should have known better; I should have done better”. Instead, change your language, “Wow, I failed miserably, BUT, I won’t do that again, and hey, at least I gave it a shot”. The point here is that we must understand and model self-esteem to teach it. When you catch yourself having a negative thought about something you have done, remind yourself:

Supporting self-esteem in others can be helped by using questions to get them thinking in a more positive mindset, for example:

Concluding Thoughts

Today, nurture positive self-talk and be kind to yourself and everyone around you. Remind your children and friends about what a great job they do every day by showing up and giving life a go.


Bailey 2nd, J. A. (2003). The foundation of self-esteem. Journal of the National Medical Association, 95(5), 388.

Dr Catherine (Kitty) O'Reilly
Dr Catherine (Kitty) O'Reilly Collage

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