Sense of Self-Worth may Develop Earlier than Once Thought

Young children’s sense of self is similar to that of older kids and adults.


By the age of 2, children start to develop a sense of self-worth and are able to reflect on themselves from the perspective of somebody else. A new study by the scientists from the New York University also suggests that our ability to reason about our self-worth as individuals develops early in life. Moreover, this sense is similar to that of older kids and adults.

The study also suggests that the failure can instill discouragement sooner than previously thought.

Andrei Cimpian, an associate professor at New York University said, “Young children’s self-concepts are not qualitatively different from those of older children and adults. Young children can think of themselves as possessing abstract traits and abilities, and they can also reason about their self-worth, which has implications for self-esteem.”

“However, this level of maturity in reasoning about the self also means that young children can become dispirited in the face of failure and are not the undaunted optimists that previous theories have described. In light of this new work, we need to think carefully about, and investigate, ways of supporting young children’s motivation and engagement with important but often difficult activities such as school.”

Generally, young children think about themselves in concrete, behavioral terms. They are psychologically unequipped for thinking about their attributes or their value as people.

In order to understand if young children can think about themselves and judge their global worth as individuals, they tried to test this conviction. To do so, they conducted a series of studies of children ranging from four to seven years old. Participants then presented to several hypothetical scenarios.

Scientists then asked children to imagine they could not complete a task instead of trying hard. Sometimes they used to say that the task is easy and sometimes difficult to complete. Some children were informed the task was done at the request of an adult while others were told it was self-initiated.

Scientists then asked questions about their potentials and their global sense of self-worth. At the end of the sessions, children acted out positive scenarios and were debriefed.

The outcomes demonstrated that kids as young as four can flexibly reason about their capacities and their global sense of self-worth. It all depended on the context of their behavior. When informed they failed an adult-requested, they reported lowered their estimation of their global self-worth, but not their abilities.

Cimpian said, “This evidence reveals surprising continuity between young children’s self-concepts and those of older children and adults. However, more importantly, our findings show the impact others can have on young children’s sense of self-worth at a very young age.”

“It is therefore important for both parents and educators to understand that our children may become more discouraged than we previously realized and find ways to foster a productive learning environment.”

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