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Helping Kids with Special Needs Focus on Abilities

Helping Kids with Special Needs Focus on Abilities

When your child with special needs starts to feel discouraged in school, let him read this, or use this as a guide, to help him through it.

Wherever you are in the process of getting special education, you have probably been working hard at things that are challenging for you. But it’s important to remember that your challenges are not what make you special. They are not what make you YOU. There is a lot more to you than your difficulties. And it is important not to forget about all your strengths, talents, and skills.

Six Steps for Being a Positive, Confident You

Life can be pretty stressful when you worry a lot about why you have challenges and what you can do about them. It is important to focus on improving areas that are hard for you. But it is just as important to focus on your abilities.

To help you do this, this excerpt will talk about six big steps. These steps can help you learn ways to feel positive about yourself and your skills. You can use these steps even while you’re working to improve in your areas of difficulty.

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As you read about these six steps, you may be tempted to skip over some of them. But try to go step-by-step without missing any. Each step is important.

Step #1: Focus on the Positive

Have you ever cheered up a friend who was feeling sad? Maybe you did this by reminding that friend how great he or she is. Good friends do this for each other. Confident people also do this for themselves—and you can, too.

First, take a few minutes to think of at least three positive qualities about yourself. These qualities shouldn’t be about what you can do well. You’ll think about that next. Right now, think about your personality. Can you think of three great things about your personality? You can write them on notebook paper. Or you can type them on a computer and print out your list. You can also have an adult help you type or write the list. Then keep this list in a place where you can look at it often.

If you have trouble coming up with three special qualities, look over the following list. Which words describe you? Feel free to use different words if you have qualities that aren’t on this list.

  • athletic
  • trustworthy
  • cooperative
  • patient
  • creative
  • considerate
  • insightful
  • honest
  • sensitive
  • responsible
  • happy
  • funny
  • respectful
  • outgoing
  • generous
  • positive
  • gentle
  • awesome
  • sweet
  • brave
  • thoughtful
  • courageous
  • energetic
  • confident
  • helpful
  • smart
  • unique
  • caring
  • fair-minded
  • studious
  • loving
  • kind

Now, add some areas of talent or ability to your list. Maybe you really enjoy one of these activities or are really talented in one of these areas:

  • reading
  • remembering things
  • taking care of animals
  • painting
  • karate
  • chess
  • solving problems
  • spelling
  • being
  • organized
  • soccer
  • collecting coins
  • dancing
  • juggling
  • computer games
  • baking
  • drawing
  • creating fun videos
  • writing poetry
  • swimming
  • taking care of younger kids
  • making people laugh
  • magic tricks

This list does not cover every talent that people could have. Write (or type) what your talents are, even if they are not on this list. Then, keep paying attention to things you’re good at. Whenever you notice one of your talents, skills, or special qualities, add it to your growing list. It can also be helpful (or just fun) to ask family, friends, teachers, or other people you trust what positive words they would use to describe you. Add those words to your list. Look at your list whenever you need reminders of all the great and special qualities that make up you.

Step #2: Be Kind to Yourself

In Step 1, you came up with a list of great things about yourself. How do you feel when you read the list? In other words, do you appreciate your special qualities and skills? Do you smile when you think about what makes you a unique person?

You can be kind to yourself by remembering your abilities and talents. Be sure to do this even when things are tough. In fact, it is especially important to be kind to yourself at those times.

Of course, everyone has bad days when it is hard to focus on the positive qualities. Maybe you are struggling with a homework assignment that seems easy for your friend. Or you might have baked a cake that came out lopsided. On days like this, can you still feel good about your abilities? If you struggle to stay positive during difficult times, try some of these ideas for being kind to yourself.

  • Admit that you wished for a different outcome. It’s okay to feel disappointed when things don’t go as you had hoped. But it’s important to remind yourself that you are still a great person.
  • Remember that one disappointment does not represent who you are. One difficulty does not define you or explain who you are as a person. You will have disappointments and challenges. Everyone has them. But these difficulties don’t take away from all your abilities. Remember that your abilities are part of you no matter what challenges you currently have to deal with.
  • Learn from the experience. Use it to set new goals for the future. At the same time, try to feel proud of what you tried and what you did.
  • Laugh with yourself. We all mess up sometimes. But try not to laugh at yourself. That can hurt. Laughing with yourself is like saying, “Oops! Oh well. I may have made a silly mistake, but who cares? It really was a little funny.” Laughing at yourself is like someone teasing or bullying you.
  • Ask friends, family members, or teachers for tips on how they stay positive when they face challenges.

Step #3: Believe That Hard Work Pays Off…Really

Lots of kids roll their eyes when adults say, “Hard work pays off.” So, before you roll your eyes and skip this section, hang on!

Putting in a lot of effort definitely can pay off. But maybe it hasn’t always worked that way for you in the past. If you try a plan over and over again and it doesn’t lead to success, you are still working hard. But it’s only leading to frustration. You probably need a new plan—one that gets you closer to reaching your goals.

RELATED: Get more great advice for parents of children with special needs.

You also don’t need to focus only on tasks that are difficult for you. You may find it pays off to work hard in areas that you are already talented in.

Working hard doesn’t mean you will have instant success. And it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to figure out how to do everything by yourself. Working hard does mean that you are willing to put in time to improve and that you are willing to try different ways to improve. It means asking for help when you need it. And it means feeling proud that you have the courage to keep trying. (This idea is also called perseverance.)

Step #4: Remember That No One Is Perfect

Have you ever looked around your class and thought, “That kid has it all together. He’s perfect!”? Or maybe you’ve looked at a friend and thought, “She just does everything right.” You might be surprised to learn that many kids have these thoughts about others. Even some adults feel like a coworker “knows everything” or a friend “never struggles with anything.”

Here’s the truth: No one is perfect. And remembering this will help you accept yourself when you make a mistake or don’t do something perfectly. Instead of thinking that there is something wrong with you, you can remind yourself that you are human. That means that you and everyone you know will make mistakes and not be perfect at everything or on every day. So, why put pressure on yourself to be perfect?

Confidence plays a big part in how other people see you. And it’s easier to be confident when you remember that no one is perfect. This can help you laugh at your mistakes rather than feeling disappointed or embarrassed. And it can help you feel better about getting extra help.

If you feel like you have to be perfect all the time, think about this: Even Olympic athletes, who are some of the best in the world at their sports, aren’t perfect. In the Olympics, ice-skaters sometimes fall and runners sometimes trip. If you worry a lot about being perfect, talk about this with someone you trust.

Step #5: Keep Trying When Things Are Hard

We all run into obstacles and difficulties. We all fail or make mistakes sometimes. These mistakes don’t mean that we can’t eventually succeed at a task. They simply mean that we need to keep trying. What’s most important is how we handle the difficulty.

It can be tempting to give up when we feel discouraged. And it’s true that some goals are impossible. When you were younger, did you ever try to fly by flapping your arms? No matter how hard you worked at that goal, it would never happen. Try to set goals that are possible and realistic. And as you work toward your goals, take pride in improvements you make along the way.

As you work on not giving up, it can help to think about how you usually handle challenging events. Do you feel easily defeated? Or do you remember that you have lots of positive qualities, even when you’re struggling with something? Think about the following situations and pick the choice that is closest to how you would probably respond.  

1. You and a friend both play a video game for the first time. You lose in Level 1. Your friend easily makes it to Level 4. You:

(a) Think, “I’m terrible at this. I’ll never get better at this game no matter how hard I try. I’m never playing this game again.”

(b) Want to buy the game to get better at it. Even so, you doubt that you’ll ever get past Level 1.

(c) Plan to ask your friend for tips on how to improve. Then you’ll play the game again to see if you can come up with even more ideas.

2. Your teacher gives your class a week to complete a homework assignment. You have to write about your hero and then read your essay in class on the due date. When it is time to share, all the kids at your table have three or four paragraphs written about their heroes. You only wrote three sentences. You:

(a) Think, “I know I stink at writing, and this proves it! I’ll have to find a way to leave the classroom before it’s time for everyone to read their essays.”

(b) Tell the other kids, and your teacher, that you had a lot of things to do after school this week. You say that’s why you didn’t have time to write more. Then you read your three sentences aloud.

(c) Tell kids, and your teacher, that you think of great ideas but have a hard time writing essays. You also ask for tips on how others write, so that you might be able to write more easily next time.

3. You like to run, and have always thought you were fast. Your older brother is on the track team. He says you should think about trying out. So you decide to go to a practice and see what it’s like. At practice, the coach times everyone running 500 meters and then a mile. You come in 6th place out of 13 in the 500 meter, and last place in the mile. You:

(a) Think, “I obviously can’t run fast when it really counts. My brother’s idea was stupid. I’m never going back there again.”

(b) Feel embarrassed. You wonder whether you could ever be fast enough to make the team. But you decide you’ll go back to the track to try to beat your times.

(c) Remind yourself that you are a hard worker. And now you feel really motivated to improve your times. You decide you’ll still try out for the team. If you make it, you’ll learn from your teammates and coach. You feel confident that you could be faster by the end of the season.

How did you answer these questions? If you gave some “a” answers, you may sometimes give up when you run into challenges. If that’s true, it’s important to find ways to build your confidence and stay motivated. If you responded with some “b” answers, you learn from your experiences. You probably feel okay about yourself, even when you face obstacles. If you gave some “c” answers, then you know it’s okay to admit that you are not perfect. You probably also know how to set goals and work toward them.

When you feel good about yourself, you’re able to handle challenges more easily. You are more likely to find the strength to keep trying and not give up. And you feel proud of your efforts. Here are a few tips on how to keep trying and not give up: 

  • Check on whether your goal is possible. You might want to talk this through with an adult. If your goal is reachable, remind yourself of that. If it isn’t, work on setting a new goal.
  • Remind yourself of your abilities so you don’t get too discouraged or upset with yourself when you can’t succeed immediately.
  • Most people have to work to get better at things. Remind yourself that you may feel frustrated but that is not always a reason to stop trying or to get mad at yourself.
  • Remember that it’s okay to ask for help. If you are getting really frustrated, then it’s time to calmly ask for the specific support that would help you.
  • Rather than trying to reach a huge goal right away, try reaching a smaller goal that can eventually lead to the bigger one. For example, you could work on playing a scale on the piano before playing a difficult song.

You might discover that you feel excited about taking on the challenge of learning something new or reaching a goal. It can also be fun to pay attention to your improvements along the way. These can help you stay motivated and positive as you work through obstacles.

Step #6: Show Your Confidence

It’s great to feel confident. It can mean that you aren’t too nervous to take on new experiences, because you believe you can handle them or you can comfortably ask for help. And showing your confidence can let others know that you value yourself and like being you. But many kids are not sure how to share their talents with others without sounding like they are bragging. (Some adults have trouble with this, too.) Here are some great ways to let your friends, teachers, and other people know that you are happy being you: 

  • Smile!
  • Stand or sit up straight and tall.
  • Make eye contact with other people. (But remember not to stare.)
  • Expect that most people will like you.
  • Honestly compliment others on their abilities.
  • Accept compliments from others. You deserve credit for your strengths.
  • Share your interests and talents with others so they know about what you like and what you do well. But try not to brag. For example, instead of saying, “I’m great at archery!” you could say, “One of my hobbies is archery. What do you like to do?”
  • Show that you are comfortable asking for help.
  • Show that you can bounce back from mistakes or tough times. Sometimes it’s hard to do this after something difficult happens in your life. But you can take steps to help yourself. For example, asking others for support is a sign of strength and courage. So is spending time focusing on what is relaxing or fun for you. Even if you can’t do this right away because you feel stressed or upset, it’s a goal to strive for when you are ready.
  • Try not to put yourself down, either out loud or in your mind. If you do, it’s okay to tell yourself, “Putting myself down doesn’t help. I need to be my own best friend and be kind to myself instead.”

Think about people you know who seem confident. Pay attention to how they act and talk. You will probably notice that they do many of the things you just read about. You may spot other confident things they do, too. Next, give it a try yourself—act confident. It can help you eventually feel confident.

The Survival Guide for Kids in Special Education (and Their Parents) Excerpted from The Survival Guide for Kids in Special Education (And Their Parents) by Wendy L. Moss, Ph.D., and Denise M. Campbell, M.S., © 2017. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; All rights reserved.

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