Self-efficacy is important to your young child – Part 1

Your belief in your own ability to do something, find resources, gain knowledge and problem-solving is the key to understanding your own self-efficacy.

While learning to crawl, a child can also learn about self-efficacy.

While learning to crawl, a child can also learn about self-efficacy.

The term “self-efficacy” is finding its way into the early childhood education vocabulary these days. As an informal introduction, we would like to share an example from our own lives.

We have often observed parents playing hide and seek with their infant who has started to crawl. The parent crawls around a corner and peeks out, smiling and encouraging the baby to come find them. More peeks, more encouraging “You can do it” and baby moves to where the parent is hiding. Hugs, cheers and repeat. The parent is supporting a new skill – crawling – by modeling it, providing motivation, setting reasonable expectations (how far), encouraging and celebrating success. As the child’s skills develop, the parent extends the activity, prompting the child to try more distance or a better hiding place. Is the baby just learning how to crawl? Oh, no. This parent is teaching so much more. The child is learning about self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is derived from the Social Cognitive Theory developed by psychologist Albert Bandura. Bandura defines self-efficacy as “people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives.” Research supports this theory with empirical evidence in studies of exercise research, for example in “Predictive Ability of Social Cognitive Theory in Exercise Research: An Integrated Literature Review” by Colleen Keller et al.

If children have a strong sense of self-efficacy, they believe they have the skills and knowledge to master tasks, even difficult tasks. If the solution doesn’t come easily, they keep trying, work harder and look for ways to gain the skill or knowledge it takes to solve the problem. They are quick to recover from a setback and are attracted to a challenge.

Children with a weaker sense of self-efficacy doubt their ability to master some tasks. When they are confronted with a difficult task, they may give up immediately or not even begin in the first place because they don’t believe they have what it takes to do it. When they have a setback, they do not recover quickly and they often experience fewer successes because they do not welcome a challenge.

The concept or feeling of self-efficacy develops over the lifespan. Michigan State University Extension recommends the following ways parents, teachers and early childhood professionals can support the development of positive feelings of self in children by providing opportunities for:

  • Infants to explore freely but safely.
  • Toddlers to participate with daily tasks.
  • Preschool children to repeat activities and work with peers.

Self-efficacy evolves based on the choices one makes and, in young children, the opportunities that are provided. Self-reflection is a big part of the process. Children analyze the results of their behavior and the context of their behavior is important. What success is to one person might not be success to another.

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