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Positive Self-Concept and Your Child

By Lindsay Hutton

Positive Self-Concept and Your Child

Taking even a quick look at the heft of writings available on building a positive identity for a kid with special needs can be overwhelming. Generations before, the only gaze parents had to worry about was that of family members, then the last century’s glut of pop-psychology parenting books. Now everyone who can figure out a basic blogging platform can “publish” on the ins and outs of anything, including parenting.

So what comprises a healthy self-identity, anyway? Though many experts might disagree on the details, the core concept has remained intact since the 1960s. Often termed as ‘self-concept,’ it comprises the various ways we assess ourselves, both in our own eyes, as well as those of the world around us. Obviously, both means of benchmarking ourselves can feed into the other, for better and for worse.

The tricky part about self-concept is two-fold. First, every kid grapples with “difference.” In fact, Statistics Canada indicates that almost 40% of children will experience some form of disability in their childhood. For those with hearing loss, they can be working with feelings of inadequacy and alienation in a world mostly defined by hearing people. However, the smart money indicates that anyone, no matter what their age or ability, can start building a healthful sense of self by finding something – a hobby, a sport, an activity – that they love.

“From what I can see, [when it comes to] helping along your kid’s identity in a positive way, every book or blog or whatever is basically saying mostly the same things in a million different ways,” says Scott of Victoria, BC, a primary-school teacher and the father of a 13-year-old daughter with profound hearing loss. “I think the age-old idea of supporting lots of opportunities for kids to grab hold of something they love and build on it.”

Sure, everyone needs an activity they can enjoy, and perhaps experience some success in doing so. This is especially true for children with hearing loss. “I always encourage parents to help their child seek out an extracurricular activity where you child can find a circle of peers that appreciates them for their strengths,” says Norah-Lynn McIntyre, the executive director of VOICE, whose daughter chose horseback riding as her hobby. “We started off with a pet-sitting business when she was 12, as obviously babysitting was a little problematic because of her hearing loss. Sometimes you have to look outside of the box.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean that giving your child a paint-by-numbers kit should lead to scholarship to art school. The key here is to help your child get acquainted with self-directed success. Try not to think about the endgame. Your child doesn’t have to be top-notch at the activity at its outset, but should certainly find the fun in trying. Furthermore, parents should stand back and let their kids enjoy their activity. Though parents with a child with different abilities might want to latch on a little close, it’s important for kids to find their own feet.

“I had to learn to let Laura write her own ticket, so to speak,” laughs Anne-Marie of Cornwall, Ontario, whose daughter’s activities took many forms during her early years. “I think part of the reason she didn’t stick with some of her earlier activities was because I was always a little too involved at the start… if she was in hockey I would have been one of those terrible hockey parents you read about!”

It’s unlikely that an awesome stamp collection or a perfect hook shot will be the be-all, end-all strategy for helping your kid define a positive sense of identity beyond their perceived the perceived “limitations” placed on them by a hearing world. This will mean some missteps, tears of frustration and even some starting-from-square-one’s. However, by providing positive, safe opportunities for your child to gain a series of experiences, memories and skills that are expressly their own is always a good thing – no matter what you read on the internet.

Note: It’s important to realize that these efforts to help your kid find an activity they love doesn’t necessarily have to come with a huge price tag. Check out the listings at your local Y or community centre for ideas.