Developing A Postive Self-Concept
Developing A Positive Self-Concept, by Dr Richard C Woolfson
Every young child needs to have a strong self-concept. In other words, she needs to feel good about herself; she needs to like herself and to value herself - and if she doesn’t, then she’ll be thoroughly miserable and lack confidence. And as you may have already learned from raising your own children or minding others, a child with a strong self-concept stands head and shoulders above the rest.
She’s the one who confidently approaches new challenges with great enthusiasm – it’s not that she’s foolhardy or reckless, just that she believes in herself and her ability to do what is required. She is also the one with a smile on her face because she enjoys life to the full; she takes many of the normal, everyday hurdles that could create anxiety – such as meeting new friends, mastering new toys and puzzles, taking part in a new game when she’s with you – in her stride. That’s why boosting the self-concept of the children you mind should be a key dimension of your professional practice.
A child’s self-concept consists of three essential features:
- self-confidence. This is her belief that she has the ability to complete challenges she faces. New learning experiences don’t worry a confident child because she thinks she has the necessary skills to cope. Self-confidence generates enthusiasm and keeps her motivation strong. Each new achievement boosts her confidence even higher.
- self-esteem. This is the value she places on herself. If her self-esteem is strong – in other words, if she considers herself to be a worthwhile individual – then she’ll be proud of her achievements, whether these are social, intellectual or emotional. Positive self-esteem means she feels good about herself
- self-image. This is the way the child sees herself. Self-image is greatly influenced by the way others react towards her. Adult approval when she completes a task or meets a challenge improves her self-image. Your support and encouraging responses positively influence the way she sees herself.
And it’s not just that a strong self-concept is good for a child –a weak self-concept is bad for her. Psychological research confirms that a child with a poor self-concept:
- expects to fail. Her pessimistic attitude makes her afraid to try new activities because she anticipates the result to be failure.
- squabbles more with others. Her self-image is so fragile that she is easily upset by innocent comments from her pals.
- has difficulty learning. She is so sure that everyone else is smarter than her that she gives up before she starts.
- says horrible things about herself. She rushes to tell people how awful she is at everything, and criticises her achievements as if they are worthless.
A poor self-concept gives a child an uphill struggle with all aspects of her everyday life. Compared to her peers, she has much less fun, is more tense and has fewer friends. Put like that, you can see the importance of helping the children you mind develop a more positive approach. Fortunately there is lots you can do to help.
Ages & Stages
One of the remarkable qualities of children under the age of four years is that their self-concept is staggeringly good. True, there are episodes of shyness and at times there is fear of new situations, but generally a young child is very content with herself and her own abilities. She plays comfortably, and quickly recovers from any minor irritations and upsets.
The position changes, however, in the next couple of years. When she is around five years old, you may find that her confidence takes a dip, for a number of reasons. First, this coincides with the time when she starts to compare her qualities to those of other children – the realisation that she isn’t the best at everything can be a serious blow to her self-esteem. Second, her level of social play is more mature now, which increases the complexity of her games. At this age children’s games can be very challenging, with winners and losers; being on the losing side all the time is unlikely to raise a child’s self-confidence. And third, her learning abilities are put under the microscope when she starts school. The combination of these influences leaves her self-concept highly vulnerable.
Alongside this comes the concept of self-blame. One of the annoying things about a toddler is that she never accepts anything is her fault. She either denies the misbehaviour completely, insisting her innocence even when caught red-handed, or she points the finger at someone else (perhaps one of the other children you mind) claiming that he was responsible, not her. Toddlers refuse to accept blame. Within a couple of years, though, the child becomes all too ready to accept her own failings. Whereas a three-year-old might blame the carpet for the fact that she tripped up while carrying a glass of milk, a child aged five years or older is much more likely to admit that it was her fault.
The difficulty with this change in attitude and self-understanding is that it can lead to a weak self-concept. A child can easily get locked into a cycle of ever-decreasing self-confidence, as her lack of achievements reduces her belief in herself, which in turn makes her less willing to try the next time. Children of this age are extremely concerned about their failures, compared to the unshakeable self-confidence of the younger child. Girls are more vulnerable to this effect than boys.
What To Do
Here are some suggestions for boosting the self-concept of a child you mind, no matter what age she is:
- make her feel special. You can boost her self-esteem by taking an interest in everything she does, by letting her know how pleased you are with her progress and by spending time with her whenever you can.
- point out her strengths. Whenever her confidence sags because she thinks she is not as capable as she would like to be, remind her of all her positive characteristics, such as her pleasant personality or her good sense of humour.
- have realistic expectations. There are limits to a child’s potential achievements. Your professional challenge is to have realistic expectations of the goals she might achieve and to encourage her to have enough confidence to reach these targets.
- break challenges into small stages. A large task can appear awesome to a child, so show her how to break it into several smaller steps, e.g. tidying the room is easier if she sorts out one corner at a time. This helps her achieve success.
- treat her with respect. The life of a child you mind may seem plain-sailing to you, but it might not look that way to her. Listen to any self-doubts she voices, take them seriously and then provide her with reassurance.
- praise effort, not outcome. It’s very easy for a child to concentrate only on either success or failure. Yet it’s also helpful to focus on the process that led to these outcomes. A child’s self-concept is stronger when she feels you value her efforts, not just the result.
- tell her how much you like her. No matter what age the child is, she loves hearing that you think she is terrific - and she is. She will never tire of hearing how pleased you are that she did this or that, or of hearing how you think she is a lovely child.
Dr Richard Woolfson