Self concept is something which impacts everyone from very young children to fully grown adults! Although it continually develops, a healthy self concept is something that must be fostered and nurtured from a young age to ensure the best possible chances for our children.
So what is self concept? Well Rogers (59) believed that it is made up of 3 aspects:
- The view you hold of yourself (Self Image)
- Your self esteem
- What you wish you were like (Your ideal self)
There are also 3 ways in which we develop definitions of ourselves and these are:
- Concrete – our physical characteristics and specific roles
- Abstract – our qualities, beliefs, feelings, morals
- Comparative – relational to others
At a very young age, infants and young children begin to see themselves as unique individuals – separate to others. Parents and professionals can reinforce this by responding to baby as he/she makes eye contact, smiles, babbles. Smiling, talking and singing to baby has so many wonderfully positive effects! As they grow, children will begin to be self conscious of their actions and therefore reinforcement or criticism has a very strong influence on their self concept. You may notice this as a baby starts to look at the adult before pushing a toy off the table or opening a cupboard that they maybe shouldn’t! Try to avoid becoming frustrated and always remain calm while maintaining firm boundaries for the child.
As they reach the ‘terrible twos’ they often start to become independent and want to do things for themselves. Allowing them to experiment and recognising their independence is really important for reinforcing the child’s self worth.
As they continue to grow (3-4) children begin to understand themselves in new ways; they use concrete descriptions (e.g. I have brown hair and I’m a big sister) and start using comparative terms, while still focusing on their own qualities (e.g. I’m a good runner!) Even at this early age, children are beginning to think about the things that they are good (or not so good) at. They are continually interpreting the reactions of those around them to influence their self esteem and concept of themselves. Providing children with learning experiences designed around exploration and investigation is a really positive way of promoting an – ‘I can do it’ – self concept at this age as there tends not to be a specific end result.
There are also tonnes of fun activities to be done around this stage; for example creating an ‘all about me’ book where children create self portraits, write words about themselves/their friends/ their family, include photos of themselves doing various activities. You could also involve some maths by creating tally charts/ bar graphs etc of various physical features within your classroom (e.g. how many of us have blue, brown, green eyes…?)
At around age 5-6, children are having to deal with the big change of going to school. Some children may be more confident around groups of peers than others but there is a possibility for all children to feel anxious. As they get older they begin to use more comparisons between themselves and others (e.g. My friend Billy is good at maths but I’m not) and they also recognise themselves as part of groups (e.g. I am a girl guide.)
It is important to help children to recognise the things that they do well, but equally important to let them experience failure. This is one of the reasons why I despise the stories of sports days where there are no winners and everyone receives a medal – children need to learn that everyone has their own unique abilities and that it is OK if you don’t win. If they are deprived of these experiences as children, then they will often lack the coping abilities that are needed within the real world.
I also believe that it is important to model a healthy self concept to your children. Of course, it’s not possible to feel wonderful about yourself 100% of the time, but show off that positive mental attitude. This might even mean admitting to the children when you find something difficult. This particularly applies to me when it comes to maths – but I feel that (when I’m a teacher) if I am honest with my children and admit that even I need to continue to work hard in order to accomplish my goals then this is a positive and helpful experience for everyone.
I hope that you can join me on Twitter: Tuesday at 8:30-9:30 where we’ll be discussing this topic some more along with any questions, ideas or related reading from various knowledgeable tweeters from the world of childcare. It’s a very friendly and informal chat, just add the hashtag #childcarehour – see you there!
On a slightly related side note – I was pointed to an interesting article this week which debates the idea of telling a child that they are beautiful even if they are not. In my opinion, every child is beautiful in one way or another – but it is an interesting read: TAKE A LOOK – I’d love to hear your thoughts!