Finding yourself

In order to equip a person with the tools to help her/him develop a healthy self-esteem, it is essential to understand what self-esteem is.

In order to equip a person with the tools to help her/him develop a healthy self-esteem, it is essential to understand what self-esteem is.

Brian Mesinger, a psychologist at the Fort Collins Youth Clinic in Colorado in the US, defines self-esteem as "the collection of beliefs or feelings that we have about ourselves. How we define ourselves hugely influences our motivations, attitudes and behaviours".

Mesinger notes that patterns start very early in life. "At about the age of three children start exploring many ideas and reach conclusions about themselves that begin to crystallise," Mesinger says.

But the process starts even before then, during infancy. When a baby or toddler reaches a milestone, she experiences a sense of accomplishment that boosts her developing self-esteem.

Learning to roll over after dozens of unsuccessful attempts, or finally mastering getting the spoon into her mouth every time she eats are experiences that teach a young child a "can do" attitude. The concept of success following persistence starts early. As a child tries, fails, tries again, fails again and again, and then finally succeeds, she is developing ideas about her own capabilities.

At the same time she is creating thoughts about herself based on her interactions with other people. This is why parental involvement is the key to helping a child form accurate and healthy self-perceptions.

Self-esteem can also be defined as the combination of feelings of capability with feelings of being loved.

A child who is happy with her achievements but does not feel loved might eventually experience low self-esteem. Likewise, a child who feels loved but is hesitant about her own abilities can also end up feeling poorly about herself. Healthy self-esteem results when the right balance is obtained.

Self-esteem fluctuates as a child grows. It changes as it is affected by a child's experiences and perceptions. Parents must be aware of the signs of both healthy and unhealthy selfesteem. - Melanie Hartgill

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