Conclusion & References

Conclusion

The main argument put forward here is that, while the development of self-esteem is an important concern for parents and teachers of young children, many of the practices currently intended to enhance it are more likely to foster preoccupation with oneself and with the way one appears to others. I have suggested that practices which engage children's minds in investigating those aspects of their own experiences and environments which are worth knowing more about can help children develop realistic criteria of self-esteem.

Self-esteem cannot be achieved through direct instruction or exhortations to "feel good" about oneself. Teachers are more likely to foster healthy self-esteem when they help children cope with occasional negative feedback, frustration, and reverses. While it is clear that children need positive feedback about their behavior and their efforts, feedback is most likely to strengthen their self-esteem when it is provided at an optimum rather than maximum level, and when it is specific and informative rather than in the form of general praise. Children are more likely to enhance their sense of self-confidence and self-worth when the learning environment provides a wide variety of activities and tasks, when they have opportunities to make meaningful decisions and choices (see Kohn, 1993), and when optimum challenge rather than quick and easy success is available. Children should also have opportunities to work in groups in which they are encouraged to make and seek suggestions to and from each other, and in which individuals can contribute in their own ways to the group's efforts. As children grow, they can also be encouraged to evaluate their own efforts on realistic and meaningful criteria. Teachers are also most likely to foster healthy self-esteem when they maintain and communicate their respect for the self-esteem criteria children experience at home and in their community, while they help them to adopt the criteria of the classroom learning environment and the school. Such practices are more likely than trivial practices which engender self-preoccupation to build in children a deep sense of competence and self-worth that can provide a firm foundation for their future.

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