Factors Influencing the Development of Self-esteem

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Like many aspects of child development, self-esteem is a product of two interacting forces often described as nature and nurture. Children's biological strengths and weaknesses (nature) influence their developing self-esteem, but so too do their interactions with family and the social environment (nurture).

Parents have little or no control over the impact of nature on the development of children's self-esteem. First, children's basic temperament (the biologically determined initial personality style they have from birth) influences how they will experience any given situation. For instance, youth born with easy-going temperaments tend to take things in stride, do not respond with great emotion to stressful circumstances, and tend to have more patience when dealing with challenging situations in comparison with peers born with more emotionally volatile temperaments. For more information about temperament, see the Infancy Development Article.


Furthermore, difficult and stressful early life experiences including childhood illness, sustained hospitalization, household moves, family changes, death in the family, and abuse can limit or overwhelm children's development and affect the evolution of their beliefs and descriptions of themselves. Children's early relationships and interactions with caregivers, peers, and teachers also has a large effect on how children see themselves and how they cope with challenging situations.

The impossibly stressful, difficult to control experiences that "come with the territory" of being alive certainly shape and influence children's developing self-esteem, but they do not wholly determine it. Self-esteem is very much a social process in that how people comes to see themselves is heavily influenced by how others see and treat them. Though self-esteem refers to a self-judgment, this judgment is easily influenced by the way children are treated by others and whether or not they have a positive experience of themselves while interacting with others. Therefore, parents play a vital role in helping children to develop a positive a positive self-esteem since parents are the "others" that children interact with most frequently. There are no people in the world more important to young children than their parents. Parents exert this influence over children's self-esteem by paying attention to how they communicate, express love and attention, encourage children to take on challenges, foster independence, and encourage socialization. We cover each of these topics in detail in the following sections of this document.

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