Aap Aur Hum

Monthly News Letter


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April & May 2022
Young Children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development
The Seeds of Confidence – Reading 2



When a child establishes her identity she is simply becoming aware of how others see her. Once we talk about self-esteem we start to place a value on that identity. Children do not gain a clear view of their self-worth until they are around six years of age but their early experiences within the family and in early years settings provide the basis for them to make a judgment about themselves. Self-esteem is not fixed; it can change according to the people we are with and the situations that we find ourselves in. Alison's self-esteem is mainly secure as she recognises that she is valued in different ways by her father, by her baby brother, and in the nursery. She has a lower esteem though when she is with her older brother, who makes it clear that she is often intrusive and a nuisance to him. So the views of others not only help a young child to recognise herself as a person who is seen in different ways; they also contribute to the regard she has for herself. And again it is the people who are closest to the child and who have an emotional link who will have the most profound effect on her self-esteem. These are described as the 'significant others’ and they include the family and primary carers, the key person and other practitioners who have early contacts with the child.


One of the most important gifts we can offer young children is a positive view of themselves. Without this gift they will flounder throughout life and be constantly seeking reassurance from others as they cannot seek it from within. However, as Siraj-Blatchford points out, positive self-esteem depends on whether children feel that others accept them and see them ·as competent and worthwhile. 




When people are acknowledged and respected, this contributes to the regard they have for themselves. However, this must also go hand in hand with them getting to know themselves. As ·young children develop they start to learn about themselves and what they can do; they begin to recognise those things that they find easy and where they need help and support.


Initially, however, children have limited self-insight and they look to others to provide information. At first, young children are dependent on the adults around them to gain a view of their strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless, although guidance should be given and boundaries for behaviour established, ultimately, as Pat Gura suggests, the main aim must be to help children develop a sense of control over their lives and build their own aspirations.


The way in which an early years programme is organised reflects the practitioners' beliefs about the degree of responsibility to give children and the importance of helping them to get to know themselves. Studies have shown that children can spend their time in either controlling or informational environments. In a controlling environment the emphasis is very much on the adults being in charge, and requiring children to comply. An informational environment will encourage children to take responsibility· for themselves by learning to plan their work, decide what resources to use and then have a part in assessing what has been achieved.


In a setting where adults control, children can only respond. An informational environment will allow children to make and learn from mistakes, discover the best way of doing things and learn how to make decisions. Evidence from two longitudinal studies in the USA and Europe highlights the benefits and costs of the different learning environments. Children were studied over time having experienced one of the following three different curricular programmes:


• a skills-based programme controlled by adults

• a free choice programme

• a High Scope programme which incorporates opportunities for children to plan-do-review.


In both instances the children who were in the High Scope programmes were shown to develop more satisfying social and personal lives.


As always the educator's actions are a powerful influence on the way in which 


the child develops. Questions which allow children to give open-ended answers and which spring from genuine interest in all that they do will encourage individuals to think about their achievements.


The ways in which adults respond to children will also have a powerful effect on each child's developing-knowledge about him-or herself. For example, the skilled practitioner sensitively balances giving positive affirmation to her children, while establishing clear messages about acceptable behaviours. Pam Lafferty, the director of High/Scope UK, usefully distinguishes between 'praise' and 'encouragement'. Lafferty suggests that praise comes from 'outside' the child and is an external judgement or approval, while 'encouragement' is about motivating the child within and creating the ongoing desire to learn. Drawing on studies of work with different age groups the following types of responses are suggested which can either hinder or help children. 

Responses which hinder children's self-knowledge:


  1. Evaluating through praise - where adults always take the responsibility for judging what a child has done, believing that this is their job; this restricts the child from forming her own view. Nursery settings are usually defined by Constant use of praise and encouragement - comments such as 'that's wonderful, 'I'm really pleased with you' are commonly heard; however, praise can encourage conformity when it leads children to become dependent on others rather than themselves. Gura suggests that constant use of praise can be high on warmth but low in regard to information offered - this is particularly the case when the praise is general. Moreover, overdoses of lavish praise do become devalued even by young children. Robert, age five, told me confidentially, 'It doesn't matter really what you paint because she [his teacher] always says it's really very lovely'. Young children deserve more than a comforting and benign environment. Nevertheless the use of praise is very effective when used with discretion. It is particularly helpful to encourage those children who are not well motivated, to help set the limits of behaviour and for young children who are learning to socialise and become one of a group. The Unit for Parenting Studies at Leicester University encourages parents and carers to give their children 'five praises a day' to improve their behaviour and self-image and to redress the attention that so often is given to misbehavior. Use of praise is particularly helpful when children are being introduced to an early years setting, but in a climate of information it should be seen as a means to an end. Praise that is focused can help children to become aware of their achievements

  2. Evaluating with criticism - negative comments are inevitably going to leave children feeling inadequate and that they have failed. Importantly, if a child is criticised this usually shuts down her thinking. Early years teachers are very aware of this and negative responses are rarely used in early years settings.

Responses which help children's self-knowledge:

  1. Using silence - often in a busy nursery, and particularly when adults feel under the pressure of time, young children are not given sufficient time to reflect and collect their thoughts. However, if when asking a question, an adult pauses to allow a child time to respond, the chances are that, as with older children, the time allowed for thinking means that the response given is of greater quality. It also demonstrates the adult's faith that the child will be able to respond, which in turn fosters the child's confidence. Young children will learn to recognise that they are not expected to come up with quick answers and that it is more important to have time to explore what they really feel.

  2. Clarifying - young children often find it difficult to put their thoughts into words. Sometimes, in their eagerness they rush to communicate and then tail away as they struggle to recall the sense of their message. Adults can actively accept children's contributions by paraphrasing or summarising what they have said. Although the teacher may use different words she will make sure that she maintains the child's intention and meaning. I know what you are saying, David. Your idea is ...' In this way a teacher stows that she has both received and understood what the child has said.

  3. Asking for information - if practitioners show genuine interest in children's views of what they have done, this helps children to become confident in making judgements.

  4. Providing information - if young children are helped to see how their paintings and constructions have developed over a period of time they will start to understand that achievements and progress are linked to growing up. A child will take pleasure in recalling her limitations as a baby and contrasting with what she is doing now.


Dr. Amita Govinda