Children with mastery-oriented attributions credit their successes to high ability and failures to insufficient effort.
Several transformations in self-understanding take place in middle childhood. First, children can describe themselves in terms of psychological traits. Second, they start to compare their own characteristics with those of their peers. Finally, they speculate about the causes of their strength and weaknesses. These new ways of thinking about the self have a major impact on children’s self-esteem. George Herbert Mead (1934) proposed that a well-organized psychological self emerges when the child one-self adopts view of the me-self that resembles other’s attitude toward the child. Mead’s ideas indicate that perspective-taking skills- in particular, an improved ability to infer what other people are thinking- are crucial for the development of a self-concept based on personality traits! During school years, children become better at “reading” the messages they receive from others and incorporating these into their self definitions. As school-age children internalize other’s expectations, they form an ideal self that they use to evaluate their real self. A large discrepancy between the two can greatly undermine self-esteem, leading to sadness, hopelessness, and depression.
During middle childhood, children look to more people for information about themselves as they enter a wider range of settings in school and community.
This is reflected in children’s frequent reference to social groups in their self-descriptions. “I am Boy Scout, a paper boy, and a prairie city soccer player”. Joey remarked when asked to describe himself. Gradually, as children move into adolescence, their sources of self-definition become more selective. Although parents remain influential, between ages 8. And at the age 15 peers become more important. And over time, self-concept becomes increasingly vested in feedback from close friends.
As children move into middle childhood, they receive much more feedback about their performance in different activities compared with that of their peers. As a result, self-esteem differentiates, and it also adjusts to a more realistic level.
A hierarchically structured self-esteem: Researchers findings reveal that by age of 6 to 7, children have formed at least four self-esteems- academic competences, and physical appearance- that become more refined with age.
Although individual differences exist, during childhood and adolescence, perceived physical appearance correlates more strongly with overall self-worth than any other self-esteem factor. The emphasis that society and the media place on appearance has major implications for young people’s overall satisfaction with the self.
Changes in level of self-esteem: As children evaluate themselves in various areas, self-esteem drops during first few years of elementary school. Typically, this decline is not great enough to be harmful. Most (but not all) children appraise their characteristics and competencies realistically while maintaining an attitude of self-acceptance and self-respect. Then from 4th to 6th grade, self-esteem rises for the majority of youngsters, who feel especially good about their peer relationships and athletic capabilities.
From middle childhood on, strong relationships exist between self-esteem and everyday behavior. Academic self-esteem predicts children’s school achievement. Children with high social-esteem are better liked by peers. And boys come to believe they have more athletic talent than girls and they are more advanced in a variety of physical skills. Furthermore, a profile of low self-esteem in all areas is linked to anxiety, depression, and increasing antisocial behavior. Social influences might lead self-esteem to be high for some children and low for others.
Culture profoundly affect self-esteem. A widely accepted cultural belief is that boys overall sense of self-esteem is higher than girls, yet the difference is small. Girls may think less well of themselves because they internalize this negative cultural children and adolescents who attend schools or live in neighborhood where their SES and ethnic groups are well represented feel a stronger sense of belonging and have fewer self-esteem problems.
Child rearing practices: children whose parents use an authoritative child rearing style feel especially good about themselves. Warm, positive parenting lets children know that they are accepted as competent and worthwhile. And firm but appropriate expectations backed up with explanations, seem to help children evaluate their own behavior against reasonable standards.
When parents help or make decisions for their youngsters when they do not need assistance, children often suffer from low self-esteem. Overly tolerant indulgent parenting is linked to unrealistically high self-esteem, which also undermines development. Children who feel superior to others tend lash out at
challenges to their overblown self-images and to have adjustment problems, including meanness and aggression (Hughes, Cavell, & Grossman, 1997).
Making achievement related attributions: Attributions are our common, everyday explanations for the causes of behavior- our answers to the question “why did I or another person) do that?
Those who are high in academic self-esteem make mastery-oriented attributions, crediting their successes to ability- a characteristic they can improve through trying hard and can count on when faced with new challenges. And they attribute failure to factors that that can be changed and controlled, such as insufficient effort or a very difficult task.
Unfortunately, children who develop learned haplessness attribute their failures, not their success, to ability when they succeeded, they are likely to conclude that external factors, such as luck, are responsible. Furthermore, they have come to believe that ability is fixed and cannot be changed by trying hard. So when a task is difficult, these children experience an anxious loss of control- in Erikson’s terms, a pervasive sense of inferiority. They give up before they have really tried.
Influences on achievement- Related Attributions: Parents and teacher’s messages also affect children’s attributions. When teachers and parents are caring and helpful and emphasize learning over getting good grades, they tend to have mastery- oriented students. In contrast, children with unsupportive parents and teachers regarded their performance as extremely controlled (by teacher or luck). This predicted withdrawal from learning activities and declining achievement- outcomes that let children to doubt their ability.
Supporting children self-esteem: attribution research suggests that at times, well intended messages from adults undermine children’s competences. Attribution retraining is an intervention that encourages learned – helpless children to believe that they can overcome failure by exerting more effort. Another approach is to encourage low-effort children to focus less on the area they perform poor and to ensure that renewed effort will pay off.
To work well attribution retraining is best begun early, before children’s views of themselves become hard to change.
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