Development of Self-Concept in Diverse Students (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010


Throughout childhood, students add to the number of acquaintances they have and develop close friendships. At different ages, students have different expectations for friends, so the character of friendship changes over the years. Students usually are closest to others who are similar in age, race, sex, interests, degree of sociability, and values (Hartup & Stevens, 1997). Through the early elementary school years, students prefer a friend who is easily accessible, has nice toys, and plays easily. Students, also prefer someone who quickly rewards attempts at friendliness (Seifert & Hoffnung, 2000). During the middle of the elementary school years, shared values become important. Beginning in middle school, students really start to care about what happens to a friend. They stress mutual understanding and closeness but still expect friends to be useful to them (Reisman & Shorr, 1978).

Students who make and keep friends are skillful at initiating interactions with their peers, maintaining ongoing interactions, and resolving interpersonal conflicts. These skills are developed through four primary strategies that teachers can help students develop:

  1. Greeting another student directly (“Hi! What’s your name?”)
  2. Asking appropriate questions (“What’s your favorite TV show?”)
  3. Giving information (“I like to play checkers.”)
  4. Trying to include the new friend in their activities (“Do you want to play tag at recess?”)

Students need to know that it is important to keep trying even when rejected. Teachers should recognize that the willingness to keep trying depends on self-confidence.

Through daily classroom activities, teachers can effectively coach students in social skills that help them begin and continue satisfying friendships. Coaching involves telling or showing students how to use a specific social skill. This includes giving students opportunities to practice the skill and giving feedback with suggestions for improving the use of the skill. Among the skills that are effectively taught are asking questions, learning to give positive reinforcement to others (such as smiles), making good eye contact, and taking turns (Kostelnik et al., 2002). Once a friendship has begun, many skills can contribute to its continuation:

  • Rewarding a friend by smiling at him or her
  • Imitating the friend’s actions
  • Paying attention to the friend
  • Approving of what the friend does
  • Complying with the friend’s wishes
  • Sharing things with the friend
  • Communicating well
  • Being a good listener
  • Giving information needed by the listener
  • Judging whether your own actions have shown or not shown respect for others’ rights and welfare (Hartup, Glazer, & Charlesworth, 1987)

Friendships can be examined by discussing current events and historical situations. Consider the following questions as ideas for content that can be discussed within social studies units:

  • At one time the United States has been both a friend and an enemy of Germany. What might be the characteristics of friendships between the leaders of these nations?
  • What is meant by a media report that someone got a city building contract because he was the friend of the mayor?
  • Does a real friendship mean you do illegal things for your friends?
  • Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were close friends. What was the basis for their friendship?

Empathy and Helpful Prosocial Behaviors

Empathy is the ability to vicariously experience the emotions of another person. It is thought to play an important part in developing friendships (Seifert & Hoffnung, 2000). Empathy relates to prosocial behaviors. These are positive social actions that benefit others such as sharing, helping, and cooperating.

As early as kindergarten, children demonstrate empathy by responding helpfully to another person’s distress: comforting, giving things to another child, warning a child of further danger, and inquiring of a child in trouble. Teachers foster empathy and prosocial behaviors by encouraging high-quality peer contacts, such as those that often occur in cooperative group or pairs activities. Researchers have found that children raised in cooperative rural Israeli kibbutz communities exhibited more empathy and prosocial behaviors than usually are found among city children (Eisenberg, Hertz-Lazarowitz, & Fuchs, 1990). Teachers foster empathy by (1) giving verbal approval to students’ prosocial behaviors, (2) modeling empathy and prosocial behaviors, (3) using instructional practices that involve cooperative activities, (4) analyzing the words and acts of characters in stories and books for prosocial behaviors, and (5) using activities in which students’ have greater control of their learning.


Self-esteem and self-concept are closely connected. If a person is pleased with his self-concept, he will have high self-esteem. Most students have formed a stable sense of self-esteem by the middle school years. Self-esteem appears to be related to social behavior. Students with high self-esteem participate frequently in discussions and other activities rather than simply listen passively (Coopersmith, 1967). Expressing opinions, approaching new tasks with self-confidence, resisting peer pressure, and making friends easily are thought to be the result of high self-esteem based on positive self-concept. However, high self-esteem could be the result of these positive characteristics rather than the cause of them. Teachers need to work to foster a positive self-concept in each student and to indicate respect and appreciation for each student’s abilities and cultural background. Because self-esteem affects motivation and the desire to study and learn, teachers use instructional strategies and management procedures to support its formation.

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