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Dyslexia, stress, anxiety and self-esteem. What parents should know.


There is a lot of talk about mental health out there at the moment.  Mental health is being highlighted by some very high profile people including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and even popstar Lady GaGa.  It was good to see their charity Heads Together raising the profile of mental health and the following Youtube video is a good watch.

The term ‘Mental Health’ is such a broad term for many different issues that one could experience and this blog post is going to focus on those issues that some children and young people with dyslexia face and how we as parents can support our children.

In my time of writing articles about dyslexia, parenting and studying as well working as a life coach supporting families touched by dyslexia I hear the following terms being used frequently…

Self-Esteem, Anxiety, Depression, Stress.

Let us take a closer look at those terms, what they mean and what us as parents can do to support our children who may be struggling with these experiences.

Looking at Self-Esteem, Stress, and Depression


The term ‘Self-Esteem’ is so commonly used by parents who can see their kids struggling with dyslexia at school.  We often talk about ‘boosting self esteem’, ‘self-esteem dropping’ and how when our children’s self esteem drops it can lead to difficult experiences with mental health. 

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-Esteem is defined as  a ’Belief and confidence in your own ability or value’ by the Cambridge dictionary.

It doesn’t take much of an imagination to think how a dyslexic student must feel when working in an education system that is full of measuring ability and promoting a limited way of learning that can often, for many dyslexics and other kids with SEN, be so much harder to perform than compared to a child that does not have a special educational need.

So how can we nurture self-esteem in our children whilst they are at school?

Some helpful suggestions.

There are many ways to build self-esteem in our children.
I believe strongly that whilst we as parents should encourage our kids and point out what we think they are good at, we have to remember that self-esteem is about one believing in themselves.  We can tell someone that they are good at something until we are blue in the face, but the reality is if they don’t believe it then at times we will be wasting our breath.  I believe strongly that as parents we can so often compliment and encourage more than helping our children to recognise their value themselves.  We tell them that they are good rather than lead them to that conclusion.  If our child says that they are no good at something and then we dismiss it, do we not run the risk of giving our child the message that what they say is worthless?
As a coach, I ask my clients what lead them to that conclusion and work with them to explore why they feel like that, being careful to really listen and understand their point of view.  In doing that, this is empowering as someone values them enough to listen without telling them what to think.  Then I ask them to show me what they mean and I look for signs of other activities that they are good at and ask questions about them.  After a while the client starts to see that whilst they feel like they are no good at anything, the reality is that they are lying to themselves and so the thinking starts to shift.

The videos below are from Professor Amanda Kirby who is a leading expert on special educational needs here in the UK.  I hope that you will find these short videos useful  to you.

Video Resources

Helping Children To Build Self-Esteem

Using hobbies to develop self-esteem.


What is Stress?

Stress can be defined as the way you feel when you are under abnormal pressure.

The mental health institute says that stress can be both good and bad for any one person.
Research shows that a moderate amount of stress can be something that makes us perform better in situations such as interviews or presentations.

Stress is something that also occurs when difficult things are happening in a child’s life such as bullying, abuse, relationship difficulties.  It can be felt when facing extreme pressure such as when studying at school and feeling like you are banging your head against a brick wall because what you are learning, despite your best efforts, is simply not helping you.  As a child, you see people in your peer group who are doing so well and you just feel like you can’t catch up.

So what can we as parents do to support our children that feel stressed at school?

Some helpful suggestions.

Take a deep breath!

OK, yes I know it sounds cliche but it has been proved that breathing slowly and deeply enables our body to feel less stressed.

Sometimes at times of extreme stress we seem to hold onto what makes us feel stressed when really we need to take a step out from what is making us feel stressed.

One great way of simply reducing stress is to practise mindfulness.  At a time in my life when all I ever felt was stress, I enjoyed using an app called Headspace.  Headspace is essentially a non religious guided meditation app that helps us to focus on what is happening now, not on the past nor on the future, but in the moment.  It helped me to to find a way to relax at stressful times thus reducing the impact of the stress.

Whilst of course our kids may be a little reluctant to do meditation or mindfulness, using a breathing exercise is useful and certainly for me, it helps me to gain perspective and not be controlled by that stress.

Check out this one minute video and follow what it says and tell me if you don’t feel relaxed.  It could be useful for some kids to try it out because it can be done discretely in a classroom if everything is getting too much.

Get help!

If a child is stressed at school because they feel unable to do what they need to do, get recommendations for what could make a difference to them in their study.  Usually this should be in a diagnosis report, but if the school has ‘diagnosed’ your child, don’t settle for that.  Engage with an education psychologist and get their recommendations for what should be done in the classroom to help your child to study.  The school is not allowed to discriminate a dyslexic child from study.  Extra time in exams, use of a computer, perhaps use of specialised software such as SprintPlus could help.  If I told a carpenter to build a cupboard and didn’t give him the tools for the job, they would be stressed. So why shouldn’t we do the same for our young students who find studying challenging?


What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a type of fear usually associated with the thought of a threat or something going wrong in the future, but can also arise from something happening right now.
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This can be closely related to stress.  From a personal point of view, I sometimes get anxious about issues associated with work, money, relationships etc.  Often I am thinking about what could go wrong before it has even happened and it is like I am living it or feeling it.  This is common for everyone but the mental health issues are associated with intensity of anxiety.  Sometimes I feel it and tell myself not to be silly and then it disappears, sometimes it is deeper and difficult to shift.  If left unchecked this an lead to a greater mental health issue.

Join our mental health workshop at the SENJigsaw Conference.

In children, the anxiety about school can manifest in so many ways.  It could even be experienced through pain, stomach aches, headaches etc.  A physical manifestation that the child may not even realise is linked to anxiety.  As an adult I know that at times I can have a constant headache and be curious as to why I have one and then at some point I will realise that I am anxious.  It is like the physical happened before my brain actually told me and I am a 45 year old adult!  Imagine what it must be like for an 8 year old who perhaps can’t be so self aware or able to articulate their feelings.

Some helpful suggestions.

I have found an excellent article called ‘9 Things Every Parent With An Anxious Child Should Try’.  I couldn’t put it more eloquently so have a read and let me know what you think. Click here.


What is Depression?

Depression is a common mental disorder that causes people to experience depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration.

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To see a child feeling depressed raises a red flag for me.  If a child is feeling low for extended periods then somehow their stress and anxiety (or other reasons) are taking effect to reduce the mental health of your child.

So what should we do as parents?

Some helpful suggestions.

Identify it.

It is going to be hard but you need to be able to articulate what you are seeing to your child and be able to tell them that you are seeing some differences to their useful behaviour.
This needs to be done in a way that doesn’t cause alarm but they need to see what is happening for them and you may be their only reliable ‘mirror’ of behaviour.
In a calm, loving and supportive way you could ask a question such as ‘I notice that you don’t seem to have the appetite that you always used to have.  What do you think might be causing that?’

Don’t use ‘Why’ questions, they sound judgemental.

He is another example, ‘I noticed that you seem tired most of the time.  How do you feel about that?’
Don’t force answers out of them, but equally be assertive about what you are noticing.  If you are confidently ( and kindly) reflecting back to them maybe they will start to see what is happening for themselves.  If you forcefully tell them what is happening and tell them to change then they will clam up and not talk to you.  If they can start to see that they are experiencing motivational difficulties then they might be more likely to open up.

Get them checked out by the doctor.

Yes it could be that having dyslexia has got too much at school and equally it could be a physical issue or chemical imbalance etc.  
It could be that some lifestyle changes could help and the doctor may be able to advise on that.
It is good to check everything and the doctor may open up resources for …


Talking therapy is so effective for depression.  It helps a child (or adult) to open up and explore feelings with someone that is not connected to them personally.  For children, there are lots of techniques that counsellors use, for example, play therapy, art, music which makes it easier for a child to open up.  It may be that stress and anxiety have dug deeper with your child and this needs a skilled specialised to guide your child through sorting that out.
Here in the UK you can find counsellors through organisations such as the BACP or the National Counselling Society.

Final comments.

I hope that this article has been helpful to you.

As parents we need to do everything that we can to help our children boost their self-esteem and to keep a close eye on how stressed they are or how anxious they are feeling.
For our children to know that we are there for them and love them is massive (even if sometimes they don’t show it!).

On the website there are some really useful links that can help.  Click here to access them

Also, I would like to draw your attention to the ‘Dyslexia and Mental Health’ workshop that is taking place at the SEN Jigsaw Conference in April, this could be a useful workshop to attend. Click here to find out more.

If you have any questions then I would be delighted to help if I can.  Please feel free to contact me by clicking here.

Book yourself in today. Click Here.

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