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Positive Self Image Starts at a Young Age

Have you ever heard the saying “only you can make yourself happy”? Well, there may be some truth to that statement.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Have you ever heard the saying “only you can make yourself happy”?  Well, there may be some truth to that statement.  A surprising survey of adults by the American Psychological Association has shown that one of the most important factors to happiness and well-being is self-esteem.  Self-esteem goes hand in hand with self-image.  The term self-image is used to describe a person's overall sense of self-worth or personal value. Self-image and self-esteem come from a variety of beliefs about one’s self, such as how one views their own appearance, beliefs, emotions, and behaviors.

     A person's self-image is the mental picture of details such as height, weight, hair color, gender, and also of things that have been learned by that person about himself or herself from others. Self-image comes from how the individual sees himself or herself, how others see the individual, and seemingly most important, from how the individual thinks others see him or her.  A simple definition of a person's self-image is their answer to the question "What do you believe people think about you?"  What a person believes others think about them is directly related to what that person thinks about him or herself.

     Self-image is a product of learning. A child's self-awareness of who they are begins around the age of five.  They begin to recognize their social self, their academic self, and their physical attributes. Early childhood influences significantly shape a person’s self-image. Personal experiences with parents, teachers, friends, and other family members add to the development of self-image. Relationships reinforce what we think and feel about ourselves.

     Since the perception of one’s self-image begins at such an early age, that image needs to be guided and protected during childhood to help shape the child’s positive image.  There are many ways to help children learn to think about themselves. 

One way to help build a positive self-image is to help kids learn to have a positive attitude.  Kids must be guided in their thinking in order to see the positive aspects of situations or comments.  They must be taught to think about those things in terms of what is good, what is true, and what is right.  Children will mimic the adult—so adults must be sure to be a good role model.  If kids have a role model with a positive attitude, they will likely be more positive themselves. 

Another way to help build that positive self-image is not to focus on the child’s negative qualities—accentuate their strengths and assets. Maybe they didn't ace the test they studied for, but their hard work and perseverance led to a better grade than they would have had. 

Building a positive self-image means adults must accept a child’s imperfections, and they must teach children to accept them as well.  Aiming for perfection is a high goal.  Instead of perfection, encourage children to do their best. Allow children to make mistakes and learn from them. Try laughing and having fun with mistakes instead of criticizing. When an adult criticizes, nags, or focuses on the negative, the child doesn’t learn anything.   Replace criticism with encouragement. Give constructive feedback.  Compliment children on what they have achieved.  Praise and encouragement goes a long way with youngsters.

A fourth way to help a child to develop a positive self-image is to provide for them a sense of accomplishment.  When an adult and a child play games together, the child should win.  When an adult and a child race together, the child should win.  Nothing discourages the self-worth of a child more than when they lose at everything they do. 

Why is it so important for a person to have a good self-image?   Every day, without exception, we find ourselves faced with situations in which we must choose how to react.  We have one of two options: a negative reaction or a positive reaction. Studies have shown that positive reactions lead to a positive self-image.  Positive self-images lead to positive attitudes, and positive attitudes provide benefits to our health and well-being.

     Self-image is important because what we think about ourselves affects how we feel about ourselves.  Self-image affects how we interact with others and the world around us. Self-image is a process that continues to change throughout a lifetime. A healthy self-image starts with caring adults who can positively shape the thinking of a child.  Be that positive adult who can shape the thinking of today’s children.

By Linda Bates
County Extension Agent - 4-H
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Linda Bates
County Extension Agent - 4-H
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
236 Woodbine Hot Springs AR 71901
(501) 623-6841
lbates@uaex.edu

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