Self-esteem is the way you think about yourself and what you expect of yourself.
At as young as 5 years of age, self-esteem is established strongly enough to be measured.
Low self-esteem is directly linked to many psychiatric problems including eating disorders, anxiety disorders and depression.
A good level of self-esteem is very important for a child as it plays a significant role in their motivation and success. It allows them to achieve their goals by navigating their time at school with a good level of assertiveness and positivity.
Children with low self-esteem may:
Be unable to express their own needs.
Think of the times they fail rather than when they succeed.
Have trouble receiving positive feedback.
Be self-critical and hard on themselves.
While we know a healthy self-esteem is linked to success and motivation, in the social sciences it is a fundamental part of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
In this theory of needs, Maslow says that, as humans, we have five fundamental, basic needs. These are physiological, safety, social, self-esteem and self-actualisation. In order to achieve each need, the previous must have been reached. These needs are -
Physiological - includes things like water, food and sleep
Safety - includes shelter, job security, health, and safe environments
Social - includes friendships, family
Self Esteem - People need to sense that they are valued by others and feel that they are making a contribution to the world. Participation in group activities, sports teams, and personal hobbies can all play a role in fulfilling the esteem needs. People who are able to satisfy the esteem needs by achieving good self-esteem and the recognition of others tend to feel confident in their abilities. Those who lack self-esteem and the respect of others can develop feelings of inferiority.
Self-actualization – realising potential, self-fulfilment.
According to this theory, Self Esteem is a fundamental need of being human.
EFFECTS ON BEHAVIOUR
Children in the early years tend to have a high self-esteem, which is down to them not yet having developed the ability to evaluate themselves or others objectively. They love a captive audience and relish the praise they get from adults. This is when you hear things like "Look how high I can jump!" And we see the huge smile on their faces when we say, "Oh my gosh, you nearly touched the sky", once they've safely landed back on earth from their time spent a few centimetres off the ground.
You may also notice, however, that they can be very disappointed, sad even, when they can't complete a task they out to achieve. As children don't tend to skilfully talk about their feelings at this age, it's important we look out for clues in how they act. Examples of these are, crying or getting upset when they struggle; they may steer clear of a challenge; and they may seem indifferent, or reject praise, of their work.
You are likely to see these in all early years kids at some point, but it starts to become a concern as their regularity increase.