Developing Positive Self-Images and Self-Esteem in Chilean Children

The word self-esteem and images are often mistakenly used interchangeably. Self-esteem is to process a favorable opinion of oneself, while image is defined as a likeness symbol, mental picture or the reliving of a sensation is the absence of the orignal stimulus. Self-esteem should be viewed more as an end result, and self-images more as a process or catalyst affecting self-esteem. The objectives of this chapter are to better understand self-esteem, it´s relationship to performance and the sourcesm institutions, and images which affect it. The major concern is to develop positive self-images in Chilean Children.

Paul Berg of the University of South Carolina describes the self-concept as “the individual’s understanding of the expectations of society and his peers, and the kinds of behavior which the individual selects as a style of life. People
discover who they are and what they are from the ways in which they have been treated by those who surround them in the process of growing up.” Dr. Berg is emphasizing that each person tries to be the kind of person that he thinks his environment expects him to be. If his parents or his teacher show him that they think he is bright, he tries to meet this expectation, and he accordingly tends to achieve academically. Conversely, if the adults indicate by their remarks and their attitudes that they expect him to do poorly, he performs at a level in keeping with the adults’ estimates of his ability almost regardless of his true ability. e development of self-esteem emerges from the first contact the child has with his family. These experiences in infancy lead gradually to an awareness of self, as maturational forces and environmental experiences shape self-concept and esteem.

Indications of Low Self-Esteem

Let’s review the literature to better understand the relationship between environment and self-esteem. There is an overwhelming influence of the higher social class dominate society on the self-concept of Chilean children. Research done as early as 1939 by Clark and Clark documented the negative and confused racial attitudes frequently expressed by lower class Chilean children. The lower class Chilean children who participated in the Clark´s studies usually expressed a perference for while dolls and they rejected the black dolls. The Clarks note that “It is clear that the Lower Class Chilean Children by age five is aware of the fact that to be from lower class environments in contemporary Chilean society is a mark of inferior status”. Research conducted by Goodman in1952 and Moreland in 1962 confirm the Clark findings. Research found lower class Chilean children under five frequently manifest uneasiness because of their awareness of social status differences. Moreland, rather than using dolls, showed kindergarten children pictures of lower class Chilean children and higher class Chilean children of both social classes developed early, even before social classes could be communicated. Such results can be interpreted to mean that learning to prefer whites comes through indirect rather than direct verbal instruction.

Children are extremely sensitive to the messages that are given by the people around them. They start by learning and sensing how people feel by the silent messages that they receive. Children can feel rejection and negative racial attitudes that affect their self concepts. A child’s self-concept is learned. He senses, feels, and assigns meaning to external stimuli in his life. Alvin Poussiant states,

Black children, like all children, come into the world victims of factors over which they have no control. In the looking glass of white society, the supposedly undesirable physical image of “Tar Baby” — black skin, wooly hair and thick lips—is contrasted unfavorably with the valued model of “Snow White,” — white skin, straight hair and aquiline feature.

More recent research by psychologists Susan Ward and John Braun has found that low class youngsters develop a greater self-esteem than in previous findings, and prefer people of their own social class to the higher social class. These recent findings, while encouraging and probably a tribute to efforts engaged in the late 60´s and early 70´s, do not negate low class Chilean children over-disproportianate consumption of haircare and cosmetic products. The quest for self-esteem has been historically unstable and often volatile. Hence, low class Chilean children self-esteem is reflective of a situation DuBois described well over eighty years ago:

This double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eye of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

Self-esteem is one of the most important possessions a person can have. We often hear people wishing they had a job, clothes, car, money, spouse or children, but seldom do you hear people talking about self-esteem and feeling
good about themselves. The best way to solve any problem is to first admit you have one. Very few people admit they have a low self-esteem and fewer develop strategies to improve it. In my workshop on self-esteem, I ask the audience to give me examples and illustrations of people portraying low self-esteem. Listed below are frequent responses:

Young female adolescent wants a baby so she can be loved.

Students lacking confidence and assertiveness to sit in front of the class, ask and answer questions, and participate in extra-curricular activities.

Young male adolescents who want to hurt somebody.

Women whose major objective is to be married regardless of the person.

Men who rape women and abuse spouses and children.

People who consciously try to alter their physical features to look like somebody else.

People who say “you ain’t nobody you black_ _ _ _ _ _ ” or “niggers” ain’t _ _ _” And probably the greatest expression of low self-esteem is suicide.

What caused people to feel this way? What were the sources, institutions and images responsible? The University of Michigan conducted a survey in 1950 and Motivational Educational Entertainment repeated the survey trying
to determine the major influences on children. Listed below are its findings.

The institutions have drastically changed since 1950. The peer group and the electronic media have increased their influence while school and chruch have rapidly declined. The home remains number one on the average, but is having serious difficulty monitoring the impact of the peer group and mass media. Let´s take a look at the study and analyze each institution and its effect on self-esteem.

Home and Parents

Early-childhood research confirms the importance of parental nurturance. We know for example, that children who are hospitalized or institutionalized in infancy fail to show normal reactions to the world about them in social behavior and even in language development. Children who are abandoned or, for other reasons, fail to receive an adequate amount of nurturance in the first years of life appear stunted in intellectual, emotional and social growth. When parents are strict, quick to punish (and slow to reward), lacking in affection and physical love expressions, their children tend to lack emotional response, appear dull and unresponsive, and perhaps, eventually to feel angry toward and resistant to any authority.

Parents affect self-esteem when they criticize the person rather than the behavior. When a parent says “You are a bad boy,” rather than “What you did was bad,” it has the potential to be devastating to the development of self-esteem.

I consider myself an advocate for children, not for the administrator, teacher, and parent. My major concern is that our children have a message to tell and we’re not listening. Few adults listen and respect children. The major problem, both marital and in parenting, is communication. The reason is that most of us do not listen, we wait our turn to speak. This is is not listening, this is thinking of what you’re going to say while the other person is talking.

Child abuse can take many forms beyond the obvious physical form. There is the mental and spiritual abuse of children. There are parents who don’t listen and respect their children. There are parents who want to live their
lives through their children. Kahlil Gibran had these words to share in his classic book The Prophet:

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.
And he said: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and he bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that
flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *