Friday, March 19, 2010

Self concept - Is it as Fragile as I have heard? How to build and develop self esteem?

Self concept is the focus of Erickson’s stage of development referred Industry versus Inferiority (Berk, 2008). This stage of development is often referred to as Latency (Harder, 2009). In this stage of development, children gain feelings of competence as they learn and acquire new skills, overcome new obstacles, and take on new challenges (Berk, 2008). Children become capable of new skills and the knowledge base then increases furthering industry (Harder, 2009). Feelings of inferiority emerge when these new challenges are not met and when the child begins to see inadequacies with themselves as they compare to peers (Berk, 2008). Feelings of inferiority are directly related to perceived inadequacies as they view their peer’s abilities (Harder, 2009). Also during this period, social comparisons begin to emerge where the child notices physical attributes and compares to their peers, examines their abilities and perceptions of how others view them (Berk, 2008). These comparisons reflect several peers, not just one, as is noted in earlier stages of development (Berk, 2008).

During middle childhood the ability to change behavior and establish the connection of specific characteristics to desired behaviors is developed (Berk, 2008). This allows children to perceive characteristics as positive and welcomed by peers, thus assuming the behaviors attributed to these characteristics are the behaviors to strive for (Berk, 2008). Self concept, therefore, is the result of cognitive abilities and the feedback from peers (Berk, 2008). The formula can be explained as the perception of what the child perceives peers to think about the child minus the view the child has of themselves equals the self concept.

Self Esteem is defined as feelings of self worth due to success in a specific domain that children self evaluate (Berk, 2008). Children evaluate at least four common areas that include academics, social competencies, physical abilities, and physical appearance (Berk, 2008). Physical attributes are considered the greatest influence of self worth for a child during this stage of development (Berk, 2008).

Self esteem, as well as, self concept can be influenced by a variety of external factors. Culture impacts self esteem based on the traditional child rearing methods. Some cultures praise achievements while others promote humble acceptance of one’s abilities (Berk, 2008). Some cultures promote social comparisons through activities, competition, etc. (Berk, 2008). Some cultures, however, focus on family rather than social activities (Berk, 2008). Gender bias is also an influential factor in the parental expectations placed on the child may promote or deter a skill or desired activity (Berk, 2008). The family structures, especially extended family units that provide supportive environments for child development, are influential on positive self esteem (Berk, 2008). The neighborhood or community plays a critical factor in the development of self concept and worth. Some research indicates that the relationships with school and community are far more significant than parental relationships at this stage of development (Harder, 2009). Thus the characteristics viewed by these local influences have the capability of altering self concept during these developmental years. In positive, supportive communities, this value system can improve the child’s perception of self. However, in areas of high crime, gang activity, etc. it may negatively influence a child’s behavior in an attempt for the child to be perceived positively by his peers.

Valerie Poling

Berk, L. (2008). Infants, Children and Adolescents. Boston: Pearson.
Harder, A. (2009). The Developmental Stages of Erik Erikson. Retrieved 03 02, 2010, from The Learning Place Online. com:
Huitt, W. (2009). Self Concept and Self Esteem. Retrieved 03 02, 2010, from Educational Psychology Interactive: Self concept and self esteem:

Ok, so how exactly are you going to build self concept for your child? This is the real question, right?

Well, I have put some thought into it and came up with a few ideas, but I would love to hear yours...

Building Self Concept:

1. Encourage your child to try new things- whether it be a sport, art, group, peer activity, take on a challenging new class, etc. And then use assistance, mentoring, and other sources to teach and model this to your child. This may be difficult- and you do not want to set your child up to fail, but there is no learning without trying... And you do not want your child to fear new things. So, if you are going to try soccer, and your child seems to not quite get the hang of it, you will need to intervene and assist. You can grab the coach and ask for some extra "training time", you can hit your local college and see if there is a student who would be willing to "tutor" your child in this area, do you know someone who has a child that excels or is good in this area? Set something up to get your child assistance so that when they do self comparison with other children, they feel that they measure up.

2. Praise and encouragement. Not excessively, but enough that your child knows you are proud and you are available if they struggle.

3. Do not be over stringent if they want to quit- it is not always a horrible thing to be a quitter. Why waste time if they truly are not going to get it? But, do wait long enough to give it a chance, and wait to hear from the mentors you have asked to help- do they think this skill is beyond your child's abilities? And if you do quit, try to replace it with something else just as meaningful.

Great choices for building self esteem are soccer, gymnastics, newspaper or editorial clubs, writing clubs, academic clubs like math league, musical instruments, theatre or drama, participation in a social organization that helps others, YMCA classes, swimming, etc. Match the activity to your child- don't put your child who is extremely overweight in gymnastics where they are going to be humiliated in tight clothing, or literally will not be able to do the tasks. Don't put your child who barely grasps simple addition into academic competitions for this area, and dont put your very shy and timid child in a position where they will have to perform in front of an audience the first time around- these will impair their self concept and self esteem for these areas.

Ideas? What are some great ways to build and ensure positive self esteem and self concept develop? What are some great activities that can assist with this? Personal stories?

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