Self-concept can be defined as the view one has of herself and her abilities. A child’s self-concept begins to develop at birth. It begins with how adults respond to her. Parents and caregivers create a positive emotional bond with an infant through warm and caring interactions with a lot of eye contact and touch. This positive emotional bond with parents and caregivers promotes a child’s healthy self-concept. It is the basis of a relationship in which the child feels the parents’ and caregivers’ love, acceptance, and respect.
As the child grows, her ability to interact successfully with her environment promotes a healthy self-concept. This is critically important in early childhood. The development of a positive self-concept at an early age empowers the child to feel competent, try new things, and strive for success. As parents, we have the opportunity (and responsibility) to help build a positive self-concept in our children.
So, how can you tell if your child has a positive or negative self-concept? Children with a positive self-concept have a “can do” attitude. They believe in their ability to complete tasks without help, or with minimal help. They do not exhibit problematic behaviors as doing so would be against their positive self-concept.
Children with a negative self-concept have a “can’t do” attitude. They become frustrated easily and give up on difficult tasks. These children may exhibit behavior problems if “naughty” or “bad” is a part of their self concept.
What can parents do to help their children develop a positive self-concept?
1. Be mindful of the language you use to describe your children. Do not label them with words such as ‘lazy’, ‘naughty’, ‘aggressive’, or ‘stupid.’ Instead, look for and point out your child’s strengths.
2. Provide them with opportunities for success. Give your child age-appropriate tasks she can complete on her own. Having done so will give her a sense of pride and help build a “can do” mentality and positive self-concept.
3. Show your children that you have faith in their goodness and in their abilities. This is a matter of language choice. For example, if your toddler, out of frustration, hits another child, you might say, “You naughty girl! How can you be so mean! I can’t believe you hit him! You’re in big trouble!” Or, you could say, “You got frustrated and hit him. It’s not ok to hit. I know you didn’t mean to hurt him. How can you express your frustration in different ways? Would you like a stress ball to squeeze?” Which do you think leads to a positive self-concept?
Alternatively,let’s use the example that your child is working on a puzzle and is having trouble getting it to fit together properly. If you see frustration building, you might say, “Looks like you can’t do that puzzle. Why don’t you forget about that one and try something easier?” Or you can offer encouragement and help. “You’ve gotten several pieces in the right place. If you keep working on it, I’m sure you’ll get it. Would you like me to help you with a couple pieces?” The second leads to success while the first leads to failure.
4. Give her the opportunity to explore her environment, ask questions without feeling like a nuisance, and engage in make-believe play activities.
Failure is also a learning tool for children, and we don’t want to shield them from all failures. In fact, children with positive self-concepts who experience failure can accept mistakes or weaknesses because they know they are overall competent.
COMPETENCE = CONFIDENCE
Parents sometimes think they must point out mistakes and often correct the child in order to make her competent. This is dangerously false. Constant criticism erodes self-confidence as you’re always pointing out their failures and weaknesses. When you emphasize what your children do right, however, children will feel good about themselves and continue to strive to meet that positive self-concept.
Giving your child opportunities to do things for himself will help him to develop that ‘can-do’ attitude. Allowing him to dress himself (no matter how mismatched or odd his choices are), putting things within his reach, such as his plates and utensils in a low drawer, handy snack packs on a low shelf in the refrigerator, clothes hanging on a low rack so that he may choose for himself, and step stools so he may reach the sink himself, will all help aid in making him fee competent, and therefore, confident.
Allowing him the freedom to try and climb the tree or ride the bike without training wheels will also help him discover his abilities. Hovering parents inhibit competence in young children. Have faith in their abilities while remaining close by to offer assistance if they ask.
THE EFFECTS OF BEHAVIOR:
Misbehavior is the usual outcome of discouragement and a poor self-concept.
It is so much more satisfying to behave properly that most children would if they had confidence in their ability to succeed.
Encouragement is not the same as praise. Encouragement recognizes his capabilities and expresses faith in your child as he is. Use words that encourage, not discourage your children.
Words that Encourage:
You can do it!
I have faith in you.
You’re doing well.
I see you put a lot of effort into that.
Words that Discourage:
Be careful. You usually color outside the lines.
That’s probably too hard for you.
You can do better that that!
Most of the room is clean, but you left your socks out.
Be careful with your parental power. While it is important to establish and enforce limits, when parents try to dominate their children, it strips them of self-respect and erodes their self-esteem. When self-respect is lost (or not developed), the potential for violence and deviant behavior is fostered. Children who
feel powerless often behave destructively towards themselves and/or others. This acting out is an undesirable attempt at gaining some control over their environment. As a parent, use your power wisely while demonstrating respect and appreciation for your child’s growing need for self-determination and a strong self-concept.
A healthy self-concept is the foundation for the positive development and over-all well-being of a child. When a child has a healthy self-concept, he sees himself as being loved, loving, and valuable. A child with a healthy self-concept is also better able to reach his full potential. He does better in school. He is better able to set goals for himself and make decisions. He is more willing to learn new things and try new activities. With a healthy self-concept, a child has better relationships with family members and friends. He can control his behavior and get along with others.