Thursday, March 22, 2012

The development of self esteemduring childhood

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The term self esteem is one that comes with many definitions. A common theme that arises from the various meanings is that it is to do with value - an evaluation of the self. In other words, self esteem could also be described as ‘self worth or ‘self image’. (Santrock, 001 80) I would describe self esteem as an experience; a way of experiencing the self. This is, of course, a subjective experience and hence influenced by different intervening factors. In this discussion, I will focus on the impact of parents, identity, belonging, achievement, security and attachment on the development of self esteem during childhood. For the purposes of this discussion, I am assuming that it is during the growth phase of childhood that much cognitive and personal development, including that of self esteem, occurs.

Many factors influence our self esteem. Arguably, none is likely to be as important as the influence of parents, due to the values they instil. These can lead a child either toward or away from growing healthy self-esteem. To explain, the value a child attaches to a particular skill or quality is affected by parental attitudes and values (Bee, 000 ). It is not enough to simply be good at something; that ‘something’ must be important and of value to the child. For example, Tommy’s father Bill likes rugby and practices with his son. Through this, Tommy learns that rugby is important to his father and he comes to value the sport as a skill. Tommy makes the rugby team at school and feels a good sense of accomplishment and worth. There is, of course, no harm in this situation � often we come to value that which was emphasised to us during growing up.

However, consider the negative aspect of the above example What if Tommy perceives that his father’s approval is dependent on his good rugby performance? In such a case, it is possible that Tommy may feel he is not measuring up, and he could experience an increased discrepancy between ideal and achievement and a decrease in support from the parents (Bee, 000 01).

In a very thorough investigation of parent-child relationships (Coopersmith in Santrock, 001 81), various parental actions were found to be linked to boys high self esteem

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- expression of affection

- concern about the childs problems

- harmony in the home

- participation in joint family activities

- availability to give competent, organised help to the boys when needed

- setting clear and fair rules

- abiding by these rules

- allowing the children freedom within well-prescribed limits.

What if these parental actions were not as apparent? Consider a situation where they could be neglected, however unintentionally. In the instance of a divorce for the parents, for example, it is possible that the child will be subject to a lot of negative emotions such as frustration and anger. The child could even blame himself for the divorce. Or worse, the child could be pushed by a parent towards taking their side. Thus, in these crucial years when the child requires security and support from his parents to develop and maintain his sense of self esteem, the complete opposite could (and does) occur.

If we look back to Coopersmiths set of parental actions as influential on boys self esteem, I think that they conjure up an image of a stable, loving environment where a corresponding complete identity can grow and flourish. This brings us to the influence of identity on the development of self esteem during childhood.

Although recognised by the likes of Erickson as developing significantly during adolescence, I would agree with the Santrock view that identity begins with the appearance of attachment, the development of a sense of self, and the emergence of independence in infancy. (Santrock, 001 85)

As a toddler, the child usually learns his own name and associates that with himself. He has learned to distinguish himself as a separate entity to his mother.

During childhood, a child is also likely to define himself by what he looks like. (Bee, 000 4). This is in contrast to adolescents, who are more likely to consider themselves in terms of traits, beliefs and moral standards (Bee, 000 4).

Regarding the impact of identity on self esteem, the child establishes a sense of self by learning to do things for himself - by touching, tasting and feeling everything around him. This new-found independence can even make the child appear seem slightly bossy, hence the use of words such as no and mine. To foster this sense of independence, the parent should create a safe environment whereby the child can explore. (Internet 11).

As the child gets older, he learns to feed and dress himself and often imitates adults. Self-esteem is significantly related to acquiring new skills. As the child matures, he also starts to develop an awareness of his own personal interests and strengths. Again, the parent can assist this by making the child feel loved and capable. This can be achieved through respecting the childs possessions and expressing love with words and affection. (Internet 11). It may also be relevant here to mention gender identity, which I believe is promoted through the norm of, for example, a female child playing with a doll.

The beginnings of a firm concept of identity during this phase is critical to its continued development during the more turbulent Who am I? stage of adolescence, where the child is more vulnerable to feelings of low self esteem. It is during adolescence that the making of decisions (ie. whether to go to college, take drugs/not, break up a relationship etc) begin to form a core of what the individual is about as a human being - his or her identity. (Santrock, 001 85).

Self esteem during childhood is also affected by belonging.

I would consider the term belonging as referring to acceptance and attachment by various significant others in the childs life. I think the foundations for this are laid early in life when infants develop attachments with the adults who are responsible for them. For instance, when adults readily respond to their cries and smiles, babies learn to feel loved and valued. Children thus come to feel loved and accepted by being loved and accepted by people they look up to. As young children learn to trust their parents and others who care for them to satisfy their basic needs, they feel wanted, valued and loved. (Internet 4).

Self esteem is also influenced by the childs feelings of belonging to a group and of being a able to function in that group. Consider when the child attends school he or she is expected to control their impulses and adopt the rules of the family and community in which they are growing. The successful adjustment to these groups contributes to feelings of belonging in them. (Internet 4).

Thus is would seem that children need to feel a sense of having a recognised place in the world, and that they belong to a family, a community and the universe. And they need to explore these. (Internet ) As they get older, children will become increasingly sensitive to the evaluations of their peers. Parents and teachers can help the child to build healthy relationships with their peers, hence increasing the childs sense of belonging.

If we were to consider the opposite to belonging - it brings to mind the idea of isolation. Humans are sociable beings, and it is not difficult to imagine the effects of being cut off from a group or parents on an impressionable, developing child.

Achievement can also improve childrens self esteem (Bednar, Wells, & Peterson in Santrock, 001 8). To explain, the teaching of skills to children often results in improved achievement and, Santrock claims, increased self esteem. I would delve a little deeper here, and suggest that it is a feeling of confidence; attributable to the feeling of a job well done, which affirms the childs positive sense of self esteem.

Achievement can also relate to how a child deals with particular problems that he encounters. As Santrock says If coping rather than avoidance prevails, children often face problems realistically, honestly, and nondefensively. This produces favorable self-evaluative thoughts, which lead to the self-generated approval that raises self-esteem. (Santrock, 001 8). Again, parents or adults can assist here, by aiding the child to cope with defeats or when he has been unable to achieve a particular task. Unavoidably, the childs self esteem will be weakened in this instance. However, it can be strengthened with unchanging love and support, as well as assistance with reflection on what went wrong. (Internet 4). The danger here is when avoidance prevails and with it, unfavourable self-evaluations and doubts about personal adequacy (Santrock, 001 8-8). To echo what was mentioned earlier under the influence of parents on a childs self esteem, it is essential that the adult or parent is consistent and supportive regarding their treatment of the childs successes and failures. The child should not perceive that the parents support is dependent on good performance or achievement in some area.

Security can also affect the development of healthy self esteem within a child. By this, I mean the child being accepted, loved and feeling safe around the important people in his life. If a child feels this within his family, it follows on that he will find it easier to make friendships outside the family (Internet 8).

A sense of security allows a child to try have the confidence to try new things and hence learn about themselves. (Internet 8). If a child feels safe and secure, he is less likely to be afraid of failure and when he does fail, more likely to try again. By creating an environment whereby the child can feel secure about himself and develop his strengths, adults can contribute to positive experiences for the child. (Internet ). With this, comes increased self esteem.

A lack of security can have significant negative repercussions. When a child does not feel secure or safe, they are more inclined to be afraid of failure, unsure of expectations and even unable to trust others. This will of course contribute to feelings of low self esteem.

Attachment during childhood also has a significant impact on the development of self esteem during childhood.

Jung describes attachment as ‘the product of innate predisposition because it is apparent in all infants wherever they are born and under whatever circumstances they are brought up’. (Stevens, 14 65) According to Jung, attachment is of biological significance as a matter of survival to distinguish between friend and foe from the earliest possible age. What then, about different types of attachment and their consequences for the child and his self esteem?

Santrock describes attachment as a close emotional bond between the infant and the caregiver (Santrock, 001 58). Furthermore, it is during secure attachment that the infant uses the caregiver, usually the mother, as a secure base from which to explore the environment (Santrock, 001 5). Santrock further believes that secure attachment in the first year of life provides an important foundation for psychological development later in life. A securely attached infant is independent in play and responds positively to being picked up by others. (Santrock, 001 60).

Attachment can be influenced by a change in the childs circumstances. Bee provides some examples when she starts going to day care or nursery school, grandma comes to live with the family, or the parents divorce or move - the security of the childs attachment may change aswell, either from secure to insecure or the reverse. (Bee, 000 )

And, worryingly, in a study by Waters (Waters in Bee, 000 ) children whose attachment classification changed between infancy and young adulthood had nearly all experienced some major upheaval, like the death of a parent, physical or sexual abuse, or a serious illness.

Low self esteem during childhood is not always negative, however, especially if a childs actions make him feel ashamed or guilty. For example, if Tommy steals a chocolate bar from the shop, it is usually healthy for him to feel bad about himself. This guilt can stimulate a child to make amends, which in turn help bring Tommys feelings of self-worth back into balance.

However, the consequences of prolonged low self-esteem are serious and evident in the following depression, low achievement, social isolation, lack of motivation, feelings of inferiority and worthlessness, and a tendency to bully or bullying. These can manifest themselves in varying anti-social behaviours, aswell as have disastrous personal consequences for the individual.

In conclusion, it has been shown that parents, identity, belonging, achievement, security and attachment all significantly influence the development of self esteem during childhood. Furthermore, the level of self esteem a child experiences (ie. high or low) can be affected by the presence or absence of these influences. Low self esteem can also be helpful at times. However, the continued presence of low esteem can have detrimental and often devastating effects on an individual and his surroundings in the long term.

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