The Relationship of Self-Esteem and Motivation in Child Psychology

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The Relationship of Self-Esteem and Motivation in Child Psychology

There are different kinds of parents in the world, even when it comes to prioritizing things. Some parents put their kids’ happiness on top of their list. Others consider their children’s future before their immediate happiness. One parent may want his kids to feel good about themselves, while another will teach his child to focus on his hopes and aspirations instead. Who among these parents is doing the right thing? Child psychology can be a bit complicated unless understood. The relationship between self-esteem and motivation in child psychology may help children to motivate.

The truth is that both aspects come into play when it comes to child psychology. Having a healthy sense of self-esteem factors into being motivated. Children who are unhappy are likely to not strive for success – they may not even think that they can be successful in life. Psychologists are telling parents to look at it in another light: It is not motivation or achievement that creates self-esteem. Instead, it is self-esteem that creates motivation or achievement.

This theory is still under a lot of research. Called “self-determination theory,” it tells us that people are inherently motivated to develop – but this motivation can also either be enhanced or diminished by external factors (family, society, culture).

Moms and dads have been upping their kids’ self-worth and self-esteem for the past century by praising their children, giving them a certain degree of responsibility (appropriate for their age and developmental level), and – of course – showering them with love and care. All of these behaviors also factor into meeting the children’s needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

Child Psychology and Competence

A child who has performed well at something feels competent when he is praised. Over-praising is not necessary – and neither is giving praise when the child has not done well. In fact, doing these things can make a child uncertain as to whether praise is genuine in the future, which will make it harder for his need for praise to be properly satisfied.

Child Psychology and Autonomy

Kids have a need for responsibility. From toddlerhood to adulthood, giving them appropriate levels of tasks can help them build their self-esteem and fill in their need for autonomy. For instance, ask a toddler to “help” with simple household chores; a school-aged kid can be allowed to go to and from school without a mom or dad; a teenager can decide how his room can be decorated; and so on.

Child Psychology and Relatedness

No matter the age, children have a need to feel that they are appreciated and loved for who they are and not what they can or cannot do. Moms and dads need to listen to them when they are sharing, spend quality time with them, include them in conversations, forgive them for wrongdoings, and to give them advice when they need it. These things, no matter how small, can help build their self-worth and meet their need for relatedness.

Dr. Robert Meyers talks more about self-determination theory and the relationship between self-esteem and motivation in a post for the Child Development Institute.

Fulfilling Your Child’s Self-Esteem Needs

These three factors help parents fulfill the need to guide their children toward happiness and achievement. Self-determination theory tells us that kids who have met their needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness can have a strong sense of feeling good about themselves, opening up ways towards being motivated to explore, grow, and succeed.

Child Psychology Experts are Ready to Help

It is very important to recognize these three needs early on. If you feel that there are certain hindrances that disrupt your child’s ability to achieve his needs for competence, autonomy, or relatedness in spite of your best efforts, it is wise to seek the help of a professional. Positive Kids licensed child therapists can assist families from Toronto and nearby areas in recognizing and addressing problems and can help in finding healthy solutions.


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