Finding One’s Self

When I was studying, I enjoyed reading “Dibs In Search of Self” by Virginia M. Axline, about a small boy’s relationship with his therapist. Children and adolescents are constantly in search of themselves. Parents, teachers and other significant adults in their lives have a vital role to play in helping young people to identify, develop, understand and integrate the various aspects of ‘self’.

Self-concept is the cognitive or thinking aspect of self and is related to an individual’s self-image or what they think about themselves.  Much has been written about self-esteem, which is the affective or emotional aspect of self-concept.  Self-esteem refers to how a student feels about this belief and is usually tied in with what the individual values.  Parenting literature used to suggest that a child’s self-esteem could be increased through constant praise from parents and teachers. Martin Seligman, renowned for his research about the development of optimism and happiness, makes the point that self-esteem is not something that parents can give to a child. Rather, positive self-esteem occurs when a student masters challenges, develops skills and works successfully.

“The feeling of self-esteem is a by-product of doing well” Seligman writes in his book, The Optimistic Child. Providing students with appropriate challenges, those that require effort to master, will do more to develop self-esteem than providing praise, especially where the praise is constant, excessive or related to tasks that required little effort to accomplish.

Self-efficacy is one of the ‘selves’ that is not mentioned frequently, but is critical for academic achievement.  Self-efficacy is a student’s belief that s/he can plan and complete a specific task.  This sense of ‘self’ has a strong bearing upon whether a student will attempt a certain task; maintain effort when difficulty is encountered; see the task through to completion. Self-efficacy is not global but varies in strength according to the particular subject, topic or activity.

Self-awareness is the understanding that individuals develop about themselves. This deep awareness develops slowly through a process of reflection about their own thoughts, feelings and behaviours over time.  Each sense of ‘self’ is important but it is the development of self-awareness that allows a student to understand who they are and to begin to shape the sort of person they ultimately want to become.

As students grow and develop, parents and teachers can ensure that they have opportunities to engage in challenging tasks that enable them to learn skills, maintain effort, build persistence, attain mastery and develop a healthy sense of self – in all its forms.

© Michele Juratowitch