How does slow processing speed impact self-esteem? Low self-esteem is one of the rarely-talked-about side effects of slow processing speed. As they struggle with lower grades and difficulty completing work, kids with slow processing speed begin to feel inadequate. Because slow processing speed often goes unidentified, these children can feel as if they are less capable than their peers. It’s only natural for kids to measure their worth according to who gets to the finish line first.
These comparisons become more pointed when children get into upper elementary and middle school, when they develop the metacognitive and observational skills to see where they stand relative to their peers. This recognition makes them feel “slow” in a way that they can translate to feeling dumb, stupid, or less capable than their peers, impacting self-esteem.
Unfortunately, teachers and parents do not always recognize the signs of slow processing speed and think that children are simply not working hard enough, are inattentive, don’t care about their work, or want to give up when a task is too hard. Over time these explanations can become self-fulfilling, when issues with slow reading and writing fluency transform a school assignment from a 15-minute endeavor into an hour of torture. While some kids with slow processing speed are persistent by nature, with a built-in “growth mindset,” most kids become frustrated and eventually begin to display the characteristics of low self-esteem, including negative self-statements, a tendency to give up before trying, a lack of pride in one’s work, defensiveness, avoidance, and even depression and anxiety.
Fortunately, there are many strategies that can improve the self-esteem of kids with slow processing speed. While parents and educators can work to help these kids improve their processing speed, this approach can be insufficient because it is unlikely (at least for kids with significant concerns) that enhancing processing speed would totally resolve the issue. More importantly, kids with slow processing speed need to know that there is nothing “wrong” with them.
Teachers and parents should acknowledge the way slow processing speed makes kids feel. Most kids, like adults, do much better when they have facts presented to them rather than having to come to their own conclusions. Once kids with slow processing speed understand the disorder they can begin to dismantle their negative cognitions that lead to low self-esteem. At this point, parents and teachers can begin to help them rebuild their self-esteem.
Here are some suggestions on how to improve the self-esteem of kids with slow processing speed.
Find activities where slow processing speed is unrelated to achievement. Activities where the speed of processing is unrelated to success can build self-esteem in these kids. Many kids with slow processing speed are naturally drawn naturally to such activities, including artistic pursuits, independent play with construction toys, individual sports, socializing with peers, or playing creative video games that do not require skills in time management or fast reaction time.
Have realistic expectations for work completion and processing speed before raising them higher. Setting realistic expectations is likely to enhance these children’s sense of success and self-esteem. Set expectations that are developmentally appropriate and that build on skills they already have. Choose goals that are success oriented, then gradually raise the bar to a set of higher expectations for them. Do not push children to excel in areas where they truly struggle. It is also important to understand that good self-esteem does not mean that children will feel good about themselves in every situation. Many children have high self-esteem in restricted areas of their lives such as at home or in athletics but not in other areas. This realization could be very helpful for those who may believe that their peers feel good about themselves across all situations and who do not realize that some of the strengths and weaknesses that are in themselves are also in their peers.
Provide genuine praise for a child’s accomplishments. Ensure that praise is earned for genuine effort or accomplishment. Children understand when praise is hollow and given simply in an effort to enhance self-esteem. It may be necessary to look for attempts at positive behavior or effort with kids who display slow processing speed. Give praise immediately and be specific. Repeating this type of praise is also useful. Praise can also be used for the absence of a behavior, for example, when children with slow processing speed are able to contain their frustration when a task is taking a long time to complete.
Be sparing with praise unless it is for effort. Kids with slow processing speed who are successful often need to put in sustained effort in order to accomplish tasks. Studies suggest that praise for talent may be counterproductive, while praise for effort is a key for improvement. Saying, “I am so proud of how much effort you put into this activity” is likely to be more effective than saying, “You are so talented.” Research described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers suggests that prodigies such as Bill Gates are best described by their work ethic and willingness to put the time into becoming an expert rather than by some innate skill set.
There are many articles about slow processing speed on our blog. We have written guides for kids, parents, and teachers. Does your child have slow processing speed? Which strategies have you found work best?
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