The aim of this study is to investigate the relationship between being labelled either as having dyslexia or as having general special educational needs (SEN) and a child's self‐esteem. Seventy‐five children aged between 8 and 15 years categorised as having dyslexia (N = 26), as having general SEN (N = 26) or as having no learning difficulties (N = 23), completed an age‐appropriate version of the Culture‐Free Self‐Esteem Inventory and a standard test of reading ability. When the self‐esteem scores of the groups were compared (with the discrepancy between reading and chronological age being partialled out), it was found that the self‐esteem scores of those in the ‘general SEN’ group had significantly lower self‐esteem scores than those in both the ‘dyslexia’ group and the ‘control’ group. There was no significant difference between the self‐esteem scores of the ‘dyslexia’ and the ‘control’ group. On the basis of these findings, it is suggested that being labelled as having a general SEN may negatively affect children's self‐esteem because, unlike the label dyslexia, this label offers very little in the way of an explanation for the child's academic difficulties and because targeted interventions are not as available for those with a less specific label.