Photo Credit: Jewish Press

There can be no friendship without confidence, and no confidence without integrity. – Samuel Johnson



When people think about friendship, they think about reciprocity, about give and take. However, if you don’t feel like you have anything to offer, it is very hard to give of yourself and let others give to you. That’s where self-esteem comes in.


What are some signs of healthy self-esteem?

* Recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses
* Admitting to your mistakes and learning from them
* Forgiving yourself and others for mistakes
* Listening to other points of view aside from your own
* Taking care of yourself – physically and emotionally
* Feeling proud of your positive accomplishments and letting go of your faults

Many people confuse the concepts of self-esteem and ego, assuming that if you believe in yourself you are automatically egoistic and arrogant. Someone who is self-confident is able to see past his own needs and wants, while an egoist believes he is the only one who has worth around him. This is the key difference between those who have self-esteem or overactive egos: self-esteem often means you are confident enough to allow for criticism and failure, while ego often leads to discrediting all others around you because you are the only one who can be “right.”


Why Do You Need Self Esteem For Friendships?

In their book Self Esteem, Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning explain the importance of self-esteem by stating that when you reject certain parts of yourself, you are damaging psychological structures essential to healthy living. For example, in the same way that you protect a physical wound, when you are critical of a part of yourself you will find yourself avoiding anything that might aggravate the pain of self-rejection. Therefore, you will take fewer social, academic, or career risks.

To that end, you will erect barriers of defense in order to protect yourself. Those barriers can include blaming others, bragging about things you don’t truly like about yourself, getting angry, or making excuses. You can imagine how damaging this kind of behavior can be to friendships.


How Can You Cultivate Self-Esteem?

Take inventory of your strengths. Make a list of the things you are good at – and then spend more time productively doing the things you do best. Spending time doing tasks that you excel in will build your confidence.

Realize your limits. No one is without flaws. While this might not always seem to be true, recognizing that everyone else has his or her own failings can give you perspective on your own. You are a unique and distinctive person regardless of your flaws.

Stop putting yourself down. Restructure the way you speak to yourself by identifying when you are putting yourself down and making a conscious decision to speak more kindly to yourself. Celebrate progress and small victories. Building self-esteem happens in baby steps. Acknowledge when you do things right, even if it’s only a small improvement. Giving yourself compliments can help you develop belief in your abilities.

It’s hard to believe, but friendship truly begins by believing in yourself and having the ability to accept both constructive criticism and affection. This is especially difficult to actualize with children who have learning disabilities (LD), like dyslexia.

Research shows that children with LD are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem than their peers. The Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities has compiled a list of ways that parents can help children with LD gain self-esteem:

Special time. Set aside designated time with your child to explore her interests. This need not be daily, but if possible, should happen at the same time weekly. This special time will give her the message that you value her and enjoy your time together. In addition, you will be participating in an activity that she enjoys. 

Develop problem-solving skills. Not everyone automatically knows what to do when they encounter a problem. If your child is having trouble with a friend or cannot figure out a math question, talk to him about the ways he can approach the problem. Ask him to suggest multiple paths to get to a plausible conclusion. This will give him confidence when he encounters a similar problem in the future. 

Practice empathy. Raising children with different needs can sometimes be frustrating. You might find yourself telling your son, “Why don’t you listen to me?” Or, “Just think about it! You’ll understand.” Chances are that most of the time, your son is trying his best to listen and understand. Instead, try to place yourself in his shoes and say, “I know you are trying to listen and that sometimes that is difficult. Let’s try that again.” When you practice empathy, he will be more likely to think kindly of himself. 

Highlight strengths. While learning disabilities often come with multiple disadvantages, often they have some benefits too. Children with dyslexia are often more creative and artistic than their peers. Consider signing your daughter up for art or drama classes. Doing something that she is good at can boost her self-esteem tremendously and provide her with an opportunity to make like-minded friends. 

Provide opportunities for your child to help. When people help others, they automatically feel competent and confident. Provide your daughter with plenty of opportunities to help others. Volunteering outside of the home is just one avenue, but even helping siblings at home can be great encouragement. She can teach a younger sibling to tie his shoe or help an older sibling braid her hair. Alternatively, you can teach her to bake her favorite cake and then she can bake it for Shabbos. Regardless of the task, if your daughter feels that she is making a contribution to society or the family, she will gain self-confidence.

The hard part about self-esteem is that it comes from within, but with a few small steps, all children, including those children with LD, can start to feel like the wonderful kids you already know they are. And, that’s the first step to making friends.


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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at [email protected].