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Building a Positive Self-Esteem in Children

Laurika Nxumalo is a freelance academic research writer. She writes on a wide range of topics.


What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem gives reference to an individual’s general sense of his or her own worth. According to Morris Rosenberg, a self-esteem expert, self-esteem is simply an individual’s attitude toward themselves. He defines it as an “unfavorable or favorable attitude towards the self”. Aspects such genes, life experiences, age, personality, social circumstance, thoughts, health and other people`s perception of the individual are believed to be aspects that could influence a person`s self-esteem. Self-esteem is not a permanent state of the self, it has its seasons and there can improvements made to it.

In 1991, Diane Loomans`s children’s book titled 'The Lovables in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem' was published (illustrations in the book are done by Kim Howard). The Lovables conveys a modest and encouraging message to children – that they are very special. During the 1990s, psychologists spread the message from the book 'The Lovables' to almost everyone, from company executives to those people who received welfare – they told them that cultivating their self-esteem could open the doors to better performance, more happiness and any type of success they could think of. This was seen as both a political and personal debate: The drive, which had its central point in California, claimed that building a person’s self-esteem could decrease a number of social ills like teenage pregnancy, pollution and even crime.

The self-esteem hype transformed how numerous companies were managed, how a whole generation was cultured, and how that generation continued to see itself in a positive light. It became obvious that the fundamental notion following the movement that a causal link between self-esteem and numerous optimistic effects was virtually incorrect, but other people did not see it that way. Millions of people loved the ideologies that were put forward in the book, and that was why a lot of focus was put on building self-esteem on a national scale. To this day a lot people still trust that the cultivating of an astuteness of self-esteem is an important thing for society.

The self-esteem hype made more of an impact in schools than it did in any other American institution. It created a limitless range of interesting classroom interference. One common classroom activity that was incorporated into the elementary school curriculum was the 'Koosh ball'. A learner would toss the ball to another learner and would complement him or her e.g. “I like your hair”. In other schools the usage of red pens was stopped, it was believed that the marking in red could have an adverse impact on a learner’s self-esteem. In some schools mirrors were mounted in restrooms and words like “You are now looking at one of the most special people in the whole wide world!” would be etched on them.

Self-esteem is a broad topic and can be easily confused with other concepts that have to do with the “self” – concepts like self-concept, self-image, self-worth, self-efficacy and self-compassion. The first distinction is with self-concept - although there is an element of self-conceptualization incorporated into the concept of self-esteem but self-concept is how a person perceives him/herself – it`s about being familiar with one's own skills, hobbies, habits, preferences, thoughts, tendencies, strengths and weakness. Self-image has its similarities to self-concept, it is about how an individual sees him or herself.

Self-image is not always based on reality, it can sometimes be based on incorrect opinions about oneself. Self-image can be far-fetched or can come close to the truth but it is usually not totally in line with the truth of how other people see the individual. Self-esteem is much similar to self-worth but with a slight but important variance – self-esteem is about how people feel and perceive themselves, whereas self-worth is more of a universally recognized concept that explains that every human being is worthy of love.

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Useful Resources

These books can help children to nurture a positive self-esteem:

  • 'The Hueys in the New Jumper' by Oliver Jeffers
  • 'Amazing Grace' by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch
  • 'Remarkably You' by Pat Zeitlow Miller and Patrice Barton
  • 'Dear Girl' by Amy Krouse Rosentha, Paris Rosenthal and Holly Hatam
  • 'Giraffe Problems' by Jory John and Lane Smith
  • 'I Am Enough' by Grace Byers and Keturah A. Bobo
  • 'The OK Book' by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheid
  • 'Red: A Crayon`s Story' by Michael Hall
  • 'What Do You Love About You' by Karen Lechelt
  • 'Spork' by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault
  • 'All the Ways to be Smart' by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys
  • 'Zero' by Kathryn Otoshi
  • 'I`m Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self Esteem' by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell
  • 'Chrysanthemum' by Kevin Henkes
  • 'Tomorrow I`ll be Brave' by Jessica Hische

Useful Resources

These visual aids can help children to nurture a positive self-esteem:

  • 'A Life Lesson From A Volunteer Firefighter' by Mark Bezos
  • 'What Adults Can Learn From Kids' by Adora Svitak
  • 'Teach Girls Bravery Not Perfection' by Reshma Saujani
  • 'Weird, or Just Different?' By Derek Sivers

Steve Salerno, the author of 'Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless', once said that the self-esteem drive was founded on ideologies that had in fact been brewing since the 1960s and 1970s. He stated that the self-esteem-founded education stems from the victimization theory and the theory escalated through books like 'I’m OK – You’re OK'. Even though the message was disguised as being of a positive nature, the true message was that the person is not okay, he or she is shattered inside and they need to be pieced back together.

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