Competence should bring confidence – how can we make it more likely to do so?

If the world were logical, competence would bring confidence. You ought to be more confident about things you are good at than things you are bad at. In many cases it does work that way. Sometimes, it does not. In my case, particularly in my childhood, it did not.

If we are lucky, some of the feeling of confidence may even rub off on other areas; or it may boost self-esteem. In my case, it did not.

I think this competence-confidence dilemma may be particularly hard for those of us who are LD, particularly if we are 2e. As a child, I got praise from adults and I got criticism; there were also areas where i got neither. this is probably true for all children. For me, though, the praise/criticism/nothing were wrongly placed. I got praise for things that were easy. I got criticism for things that were hard. In other words, i got praise for lack of effort and criticism (or nothing) for effort. This was not intentional on the part of my parents and teachers – by no means. Indeed, they intended the opposite: To praise effort.

This went wrong for them because they could not see what was hard and easy for me. For example, I was very good at math. This came without effort. I read math books, I understood them, I did the problems, I got good grades. No effort. Yet high reward and praise. On the other hand, the things that were hard – holding a conversation, making friends, all sorts of spatial stuff and so on, got me no praise at all. If anything, they got me criticism “You’re talking too much!” “Don’t interrupt!” “Why don’t you have friends?”

Thus I got the strong impression that praise was worthless and criticism stupid. And, by implication, the people who gave these out were, at worst, stupid and at best utterly uncomprehending of who I was.

How can we not pass this along?

By being more aware not only of a child’s strengths and weaknesses, but of his or her efforts and progress. In areas of difficulty, progress may be slow. It may be glacial. But it may be hard-won. That deserves praise. We just need to open our eyes to it and we will see it.


  1. Hi Peter, This is my first visit to your site and blogs. My son, now 25, has poor visual memory. I believe that is one of the reasons he cannot tolerate multiple commands or requests at one time, as he is not able to create pictures in his mind. In this article, you mention being “2e.” What does that mean? Thank you! Ginny

  2. Hi Ginny

    2e stands for twice exceptional – gifted and learning disabled, in my case.

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