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Self-Efficacy or Self-Esteem?

Debra Lambrecht, Founder, Caulbridge Education | June 6, 2014

A child’s self-efficacy or confidence in one’s ability to impact the world is directly related to academic and personal success. In her clinical practice treating adolescents, Madeline Levine, Ph.D., psychologist and best-selling author found that “While often personable and academically successful, they aren’t particularly creative or interesting.”  She goes on to explain the reason that so many of her teenage patients feel empty is because they lack the secure, reliable, welcoming internal structure that she refers to as ‘the self’. The boredom, the vagueness, unhappiness, and reliance on others, all point to kids who run into difficulty with the very foundation of psychological development.

Dr. Levine offers this distinction: Self-efficacy is the belief that we can successfully impact our world. Unlike self-esteem, Children doing dishes at Caulbridge Schoolwhich is concerned with judgments of self-worth, self-efficacy is concerned with judgments of personal capability. While self-efficacy often overlaps with self-esteem, it is not the same thing. And unlike self-esteem, which has very little relation to academic, personal or interpersonal success, self-efficacy has a strong correlation with positive outcomes for children. When children are high in self-efficacy they find it easy to act on their own behalf this ability to act appropriately is one’s best interest is termed: agency. Self-efficacy refers to beliefs; agency refers to actions; but they both refer to a sense of personal control. Clearly, efficacy and agency are interrelated; the more we believe that we are able to exert control effectively in the world, the more likely we are to act effectively. High levels of agency are found in proactive people, ‘go-getters’ who ‘know how to get things done.’ While the term self-efficacy may not be as familiar as self-esteem, it is far more likely to contribute to healthy emotional development.

Children with a healthy self are good architects of their internal ‘homes’, and exhibit the psychological building blocks of self-liking, self-acceptance, and self-management. It is this restorative psychological structure that children need to construct in order to be at ease internally as well as out in the world. Ms. Levine reports that “for many kids in my practice, the internal place of comfort and respite is dangerously underdeveloped.”

Caulbridge School intentionally supports a child’s internal life, developing their ability to engage with their ever changing world.