It’s no surprise that addicts often pick up drinks or drugs to numb feelings of low self-worth or inadequacy. After all, self-esteem holds a meaningful role in one’s tendency towards addiction.
But, how is self-esteem developed, and when?
Liking Who You See in the Mirror
A recent study conducted by the University of Washington answers both of these questions, and the results may surprise you. In fact, researchers found that, at the tender age of five, children have already developed a sense of self-esteem that's comparable in strength to that of adults.
It was also found that self-esteem tends to remain stable across one’s lifespan, suggesting that this important personality trait is already in place early on – even before our children begin kindergarten.
“Some scientists consider preschoolers too young to have developed a positive or negative sense about themselves,” noted one of the study’s authors, Professor Andrew Melzoff. “Our findings suggest that self-esteem, feeling good or bad about yourself, is fundamental. It is a social mindset children bring to school with them, not something they develop in school.”
Measuring How Kids See Themselves
These new findings, published in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, used a newly developed test to assess how strongly children feel positively about themselves.
Using buttons on a computer, a mix of 234 five-year-old boys and girls responded to a series of “me” and “not me” flags, using words and pressing the buttons. The results showed that the test group associated themselves more with “good” than with “bad,” and this was equally pronounced in both genders.
Taken together, the findings show that self-esteem is not only unexpectedly strong in children this young, but is also systematically related to other fundamental parts of children’s personality, such as in-group preferences and gender identity.
“Self-esteem appears to play a critical role in how children form various social identities,” said Dr. Dario Cvencek, the study’s lead author. “Our findings underscore the importance of the first five years as a foundation for life.
Boosting Your Child’s Self-Esteem
Now that we know self-esteem emerges so early in life, what can we do to foster the development of self-confidence in our own children? .
In short, it's all about instilling a sense of confidence and trusting the core values parents pass along from generation to generation. Most importantly, we can encourage loving and supportive relationships, so the child can then reciprocate those connections with others. This simple step gives children a strong sense of self, eliminating the need for her to escape or avoid difficult feelings and situations through drugs or alcohol in later years.
Additional Reading: Proactive Parenting: Keeping Kids Safe from Addiction
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