The Difference Between Self-concept and Self-esteem in Children

Mothers and fathers bear the responsibility of forming a good self-concept and self-esteem in their children. In this article, we'll explain the difference between both of these terms.
The Difference Between Self-concept and Self-esteem in Children

Last update: 06 May, 2020

Over the years, children should learn to develop a positive image of themselves and value themselves as people. In the same way, they need to develop a good self-concept and self-esteem. These two terms share a close relationship, but they don’t mean the same thing. Below, we’ll explain the differences that exist between them.

Cultivating self-love in children from the time they’re small is fundamental in order for them to grow up happy and healthy. Therefore, families should make sure to offer their children an education based on affection and mutual trust. This is an indispensable part of their emotional well-being.

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”

– Mark Twain –

Differences between self-concept and self-esteem in children

Knowledge of one’s self refers to how we reflect upon our own personal capacities and characteristics. It’s what allows us to be aware of our own strengths and limits. In this sense, there are three dimensions that define knowledge of self:

  • Cognitive.
  • Descriptive.
  • Evaluation based.

A person’s self-concept and self-esteem forms depending on the use of these three dimensions. With this in mind, we can say that our self-concept is based on the cognitive and descriptive dimensions, given the set of characteristics, attributes, thoughts, abilities, and values we use to define ourselves as independent individuals, different from others.

A boy with a healthy self-esteem.

On the other hand, self-esteem has a multidimensional and global nature. This is because it’s the subjective perception and assessment that we make of ourselves, both in the personal and social realm. Therefore, it has more of an emotional component.

These two constructs evolve differently depending on the evolutive age and the experiences we have in our daily lives. Therefore, we can mention a series of differences that exist between self-concept and self-esteem in children.

The development of self-concept in children

The development of self-concept in children varies over the years as follows:

  • From ages 1 to 3: In this period, the objective of children is to achieve knowledge of self. This consists of learning to distinguish their own identity from that of others. So, from the first year of life, children begin to recognize themselves visually and, little by little, gain the ability to identify their capacities and qualities. This process will determine how sure children are of themselves in the future.
  • From the ages of 3 to 6: Children in this age range tend to define themselves depending on the social relationships they establish and what authority figures say about them. Therefore, they describe themselves based on external personal attributes and in a global manner.
  • From ages 6 to 12. Once children begin school, they define themselves as people with feelings, thoughts, and desires that are different from those of others. What’s more, they can differentiate psychological, physical, and social characteristics and use comparisons to evaluate them.
  • From 12 years and on: During adolescence, youth establish a more differentiated, complex, and realistic self-concept. They seek to discover themselves in their quest for independenceTherefore, they focus on discovering their tastes, interests, motivations, etc.

The development of self-esteem in children

A person’s self-esteem suffers variations over the course of his or her maturative development. But, unlike self-concept, self-esteem doesn’t appear during the first years of life. Rather, it begins to develop after the age of 3.

  • Preschool. During the preschool years, little ones develop an idealistic and not very realistic self-esteem. This is because they confuse who they want to be with who they really are. In fact, at this point in life, children focus more on their physical competencies than their academic abilities.
Preschool children clapping.

  • School-aged children: During this time, self-esteem becomes more complex and abstract, but it’s still not realistic. Children continue to have very high and positive self-esteem until they reach the age of 7 or 8. Then, it begins to descend until it stabilizes. This will depend on the following:
    • Family education and type of upbringing.
    • Experiences in social relations.
    • The evaluation of their successes and failures.
  • Adolescence. During puberty, self-esteem tends to decreaseThis is due to the social pressure of pleasing others, especially their peers. And, what’s more, physical appearances become more important. But as they grow and enter adulthood, self-esteem tends to increase realistically, based both on their personal abilities and limitations.

In conclusion

In conclusion, while the development of self-concept and self-esteem are closely related to one another, there are multiple difference between them. Of course, they also have aspects in common.

Both constructs serve to help us understand our thoughts, behavior, and actions. So, the level of self-esteem and perception of self-concept will define a child’s personality type.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Berger, K.S. (2007). Psicología del desarrollo. Infancia y adolescencia. Madrid: Editorial Médica Panamericana.
  • Berk, L. E. (2004). Desarrollo del niño y del adolescente.Madrid: Prentice-Hall.
  • Payá, M. (1992). El autoconocimiento como condición para construir una personalidad moral y autónoma. Comunicación, lenguaje y educación4(15), 69-76.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.