Self-Esteem, Play and the Positive Child, Part 1

What is the relationship between self-esteem and a positive attitude?child blowing bubble

One of the foundational elements essential to a child’s “maturation and socialization … during all stages of childhood…” [1] is self-esteem. In fact, Webster defines self-esteem as: “belief in oneself.”

Belief in and feeling good about oneself are the positive emotions that increase through involvement in positive experiences. The earliest and most common form of these experiences for younger children is play.

Play enables a child to try new things. In the process, a child makes friends and communicates with others.

When children play with each other, they take risks, and they recognize and acknowledge each others’ successes while developing self-confidence. Through trial and error, they build upon these successes and acquire the flexibility and perseverance they need to tackle the highs and lows of daily living.

Children learn to recognize and respect their growing abilities. The end product of this effort is — they believe they can.

The idea that positive emotions allow a child to “broaden and build” skills (physical, social, and creative) that will benefit him or her later in life was identified by Barbara Frederickson,[2] a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina. Frederickson’s study found that negative emotions have an overall negative effect on a person’s future choices while positive emotions “broaden” the perception of what is possible for them. Later, a child can use them as resources from which to “build” new skills.

When a child believes he or she will have more positive outcomes than failures, the resulting skills will carry over from the playground into the classroom. The child develops a positive “affect” or character, over time.

In a study reviewing “Optimism and Burnout in Competitive Sports,”[3] scientists indicate that having a positive affect “favors health.” They found a number of areas where a “positive affect” impacted outcomes.

It “improve(s) strategies of confrontation”[4]; “favors a more complete and flexible cognitive process”[5] and “helps a person evaluate the present and look for better opportunities in the future.”[6] In general, a healthy, optimistic attitude helps individuals manage their expectations and feelings about their performance.

Healthy self-esteem reduces rates of depression and contributes to self-love. A child with a joyful spirit and mind is prepared to solve challenging problems without fear. His or her positive feelings create future successes!

[1] H.B. English, and A.C. English, A Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychological and Psychoanalytic Terms. New York: David McKay, 1958..

Mildred B. Parten, “Social Participation among Preschool Children,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 27, (July/September 1932):243–269.

[2] Barbara Fredericksen, “The Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions.” Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society London 17 (August 2004): 1367–1377.

[3] Rosendo Berengui; Enrique J. Garces de los Fayos Ruiz; Francisco J. Orin Montero; Ricardo de la Vega Marcos; and Jose Maria Lopez Gullon (2013) “Optimism and Burnout in Competitive Sport.” Psychology 2013. 4, №9A2 (2013): 13–18.

[4] M.F. Scheier, M.F., C.S. Carver, and M.W. Bridges, “Distinguishing Optimism from Neuroticism (and Trait Anxiety, Self-Mastery and Self-Esteem): A Reevaluation of the Life Orientation Test.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67 (1994)1063–1078.

[5] L.G. Aspinwall, L. Richter, and R.R;. Hoffman, “Understanding How Optimism Works: An Examination of Optimists’ Adaptive Moderation of Belief and Behavior.” In Optimism and Pessimism, Implications for Theory Research and Practice ed. E.D. Chand (Washington DC: American Psychological Association 2001), 217–238.

[6] S.L. Schneider, S.L. (2001) “In Search of Realistic Optimism.” American Psychologist, 56, (2001), 250–263.