Development of Self-Understanding in Middle Childhood
Many related terms have been used by developmental, clinical, and personality psychologists to describe individuals’ understanding and evaluation of themselves (for a recent review, see Jacobs, Bleeker, & Constantino, 2003). Self-concept, self-competence, self-worth, and self-esteem are the psychological constructs most typically employed in research and practice with school-age children—but they are not interchangeable! Self-concept and self-competence are cognitive constructions. Self-concept comprises your knowledge of who you are, and self-competence refers to what you can do. On the other hand, self-worth and self-esteem are affective terms. Self-worth is the feeling that you are valued for yourself as an individual person, reflecting the Rogerian notion of positive regard discussed in the previous section. More often, in educational or counseling settings, such self-evaluations are referred to as self-esteem.
These two approaches to describing the self (i.e., cognitive and affective) are derived from a distinction originally made by the 19th-century psychologist and philosopher William James (for a review of self-representations in children, see Harter, 2006). James (1890) distinguished between two fundamental aspects of the self: the “I” and the “me.” The “I” refers to a subjective awareness of yourself as a person, sometimes referred to as the self as subject or agent. The “me” refers to facts that are objectively known about you, sometimes called the self as object. For James, a person must first construct an “I-self” in infancy, who then, throughout childhood and adulthood, constructs the “me-self” (for historical reviews, see Harter, 1992, 1999). These dual aspects of the self were subsequently elaborated by sociologists like Charles Cooley (1902) and George Herbert Mead (1934), who described a “looking-glass self,” the idea that you see yourself as others see you (cf. Harter, Stocker, & Robinson, 1996). Thus, the middle childhood period involves both the cognitive construction of self-concept, based on knowledge of your own skills and abilities (i.e., self-competence), and the affective construction of self-esteem, based on the internalization of positive regard from others (i.e., self-worth).
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