For years, people debated on self-concept vs self-esteem. While often used interchangeably, they each have unique principles. Knowing how they can be similar and where they differ allows you to explore parts of yourself that can positively impact your mental health.
In this article, we will explore how self-concept differs from self-esteem and how an understanding of their unique qualities can guide you as a parent or a caregiver in helping with your child’s and teen’s positive character formation.
The Importance of Self-Concept and Self-Esteem
It is important to understand self-concept and self-esteem as they give us insights into how we can improve our kids’ perspective in life and assist in achieving their life satisfaction [*].
Both represent areas of an individual’s perception of themselves that contribute to how they think, feel, behave, and interact with people around them [*] These, in turn, serve as windows to their personalities that we can enhance or intervene with as necessary [*].
More than just determinants of life satisfaction and mental wellness, self-concept and self-esteem are necessary for building identity and cultivating individualism. Since adolescence is generally characterized by exploration and identity crises, it is necessary to ensure a healthy degree of these self-perceptions in your kids, especially teens [*].
While there is no point in comparing the two, self-concept and self-esteem are both instrumental in kids’ motivational drive and goal pursuits. Kids who have high levels of both typically are more motivated, persistent, and goal-oriented [*].
What is Self-Concept?
Self-concept refers to the mental image we have built around ourselves that encompasses our beliefs, ideas, and perceptions. It is the lens through which kids view themselves and how they interpret the world around them.
Take note that self-concept is different from identity, as the latter only involves an individual’s representations of beliefs and attitudes. On the other hand, self-concept extends to a person’s abilities and achievements. In other words, it is the cognitive dimension of one’s identity [*].
Kids in the middle childhood stage, for instance, are starting to develop their social self-concept and make comparisons. As such, they adopt skills and behaviors in hopes of fitting in with everyone else [*]. A kid may refer to himself as “good at math” or “faster than most kids at school”.
Components of Self-Concept
According to psychologist Carl Rogers, self-concept consists of three main components: self-image, the ideal self, and self-esteem.
Self-image is how individuals see themselves: their appearance, abilities, and personal traits.
According to research, kids with positive self-image possess an academic advantage and a better physical self-concept [*].
As kids and teens are especially conscious of their appearance, it is beneficial to introduce them to exercises such as positive self-talk and journaling. These coping exercises can keep them from developing unhealthy standards of body image by using positive affirmations and encouraging reflections on their unique physical qualities.
Meanwhile, the ideal self refers to our vision of who we aspire to be. Growing up, kids tend to pattern their aspirations from those they admire the most. As such, parenting practices and environmental factors often play a role in kids’ exploration of their ideal selves [*].
Finally, another component of self-concept is self-esteem or self-worth. We will explore more on this component in the succeeding sections.
Factors Influencing Self-Concept
There are various internal and external factors at play when it comes to self-concept in kids and teens. Social interaction, cultural background, and family upbringing are all external factors that contribute to kids’ self-concept [*].
Moreover, kids’ personal experiences and reflections can both positively and negatively impact self-concept.
Recently, social media has also been making a huge impact on kids’ and teens’ self-concept. The way it portrays a popular lifestyle often causes envy and even unrealistic body image standards [*]. Thus, teaching your kids and teens to engage in self-reflection and practices such as reciting coping statements in front of the mirror might help boost self-concept levels [*].
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem refers to a person’s belief in their own value. It consists of a personal assessment of one’s own worth and confidence in their ideals, morals, and abilities. Whereas self-concept concerns the “who”, self-esteem aims to measure our worth and how we perceive ourselves based on our abilities and the opinions of others.
Components of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is built on the foundations of three components namely self-worth, self-competence (self-efficacy), and self-love.
Self-worth involves the belief that you are deserving of respect, affection, and success. Kids who manifest low self-worth often experience a range of negative emotions such as sadness and anger [*].
On the other hand, self-competence or self-efficacy is closely linked to a kid’s confidence in their abilities and competency. Adolescents, in particular, may exhibit signs of depression when they have low levels of self-competence [*].
Hence, engaging your teens in activities like answering self-esteem worksheets and exposing them to diverse interests will train them to build up their strengths.
Finally, self-love encompasses the belief that we deserve the kindness, compassion, and care we extend to others. This is why kids and teens are encouraged to be kind to themselves and respect their own boundaries [*].
Factors Influencing Self-Esteem
Like self-concept, self-esteem is shaped by several factors. For one, the feedback and validation the kids receive from people around them often make up the bulk of their perceived value [*]. What others think of them could make or break their self-esteem.
Societal norms and expectations also play a part. More often than not, kids and teens measure their value against the standards that society and people have set for them. However, when they cannot meet those expectations, they usually suffer from pressures and a decline in self-worth [*].
Personal achievements and failures similarly contribute to the self-esteem levels of kids and teens. Hence, programs and workshops aimed at personality development and motivation are considered helpful for boosting self-esteem among students [*].
Common Traits of Self-Concept and Self-Esteem
Although we have established earlier that self-concept and self-esteem are two distinct ideas, they still share some common aspects. They include subjectivity, flexibility, and interconnectedness.
Both self-concept and self-esteem operate on subjectivity; meaning, they are rooted in an individual’s personal beliefs and perceptions. They each highlight the uniqueness of an individual’s ideals, morals, and abilities.
For instance, two kids possess distinct qualities; one is athletic while the other excels academically. Each kid’s self-concept and self-esteem are subjective to their own beliefs and abilities.
Self-concept and self-esteem are flexible enough to be corrected and improved through several practical interventions and professional guidance. Although self-concept is often influenced by past experiences and discoveries, it can be managed over time to positively reshape the individual’s perception of their own image.
The same thing goes with self-esteem, which is influenced both by past and present circumstances. For kids and teens with low self-esteem, interventions and exercises can help boost it to healthier levels. Some strategies for self-concept apply to improving self-esteem and vice versa.
Both concepts share a common thread, which is the prioritization of one’s own well-being. They both promote self-awareness and encourage inner reflection. Also, any changes in one’s self-concept directly influence self-esteem and vice versa, which makes them interconnected and dependent on one another.
What’s the Difference Between Self-Concept and Self-Esteem?
The differences between self-concept and self-esteem may be difficult to see as they seem to share similar qualities. However, the nature of the evaluation, conceptual basis, and areas of influence are all distinct for each.
Nature of Evaluation
Self-concept is generally measured by descriptive elements of self-image and ideal self. For example, the sentences “I am beautiful” and “I am smart” both pertain to the qualities a kid or a teen might describe themselves.
Meanwhile, self-esteem often takes into account quantitative values such as goals achievements or failures, and academic performance. It is usually dependent on how a kid demonstrates his abilities and skills and the feedback they receive from it.
Self-concept is usually built around past experiences. What a person has experienced and discovered throughout the years can contribute to their existing ideals, morals, and skills.
On the other hand, self-esteem can be influenced by both past and present situations. A previous experience with defeat may have impacted a kid’s low self-esteem, but it can be improved in the present through interventions and personal development exercises.
Self-concept is global; meaning, it encompasses all the qualities found in a person’s identity. From abstract qualities such as ideals and morals to the more visible skills and abilities, self-concept represents the holistic perception of one’s own self.
Meanwhile, self-esteem is usually limited to specific areas of a person’s life. Self-esteem is often the emotional outcome of self-concept. For instance, when your kid receives an award at school; it results in their boosted self-esteem in terms of academic aptitude.
Tips to Improve Self-Concept and Self-Esteem
Helping your kids and teens to realize their full potential and significance starts with improving their self-concept and self-esteem. Below are some strategies that may help.
Avoid pressuring your kids
Pressure can be a good thing because it reinforces motivation and goal achievement. However, too much of it can cause your kids and teens to attach their sense of worth to personal success. Allow them room to grow and improve.
Similarly, giving them an ideal degree of independence in decision-making helps avoid unnecessary pressures and expectations in your kids [*]. For example, instead of deciding on an extracurricular activity on their behalf, give them choices on which sports or enrichment program they think they can handle.
Remind them it’s okay to fail sometimes
Do not be too hard on your kids when they fail to achieve something. Instead of making them dwell on their failures, engage them in exercises that will remind them of their strengths and how they can cope with criticisms and defeat. Worksheets that allow self-reflection and affirmations work best for kids and teens.
Set realistic goals
To align their strengths with standards and expectations, make sure that they are aiming for realistic and achievable goals. For instance, if they aspire to get into the sports team, discuss with them the need to allot sufficient time for training so their expectations of being accepted can be managed. Help them track their progress towards developing the skills they need to be eligible for membership.
Remind your kids to prioritize themselves so that they can focus on their self-efficacy and personal growth. This might involve teaching them to say “no” to things they cannot expend their energy on or that might cause them to fail at their goals.
For instance, if their friends are planning to host a party the night before an important exam, discuss with them the possible negative consequences of choosing to accept the invitation over prioritizing reviewing their lessons.
The Bottom Line
Self-concept and self-esteem may both include “self” in their definitions, but they are distinct in components and principles. Still, a good dose of both ensures your kid or teen remains well-rounded and has a positive life outlook. Practical tips and exercises on self-esteem coping skills can help boost these qualities to a healthy level.
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