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Petra Starkova, M.A.
Petra Starkova, M.A.

Children's Self-Esteem, Confidence, and Manual Work

Every child needs to feel they belong somewhere to be happy.

Source: Pixabay

In the past, manual labor such as helping out at home – bringing home groceries, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor – was an integral part of one's upbringing. The last few decades have changed that. Domestic chores have grown less time-consuming thanks to modern appliances and we also tend to raise our children in a more liberal, less directive fashion.

Nowadays, some children practically never encounter the opportunity to create something of value using just their own hands. Is this a good trend or something we should discourage?

Up until the beginning of the 20th century, children were perceived as a workforce by their families. Their work was significant for the family as well as the economy. One's success in life was largely determined by how well they understood husbandry, trade or crafts, none of which had been taught in school. School was commonly perceived as something “extra,” not crucial in life, and the most vital knowledge had been transferred from parents and other family members to the children.

The last century has brought forth much broader opportunities in career choice for both genders and freed children in the more fortunate regions from hard work. Higher than elementary school education also became widespread and expected as far as possible.

Success at school grew important and school results gradually became the foundation of a child's conception of their own value. Manual labor, reduced from hours to minutes a day during the last century, largely disappeared from many children's lives.

On one hand, it can be perceived as a sign of a high standard of living. On the other hand, it is an interesting question to explore: Is it good that children nowadays hardly know any manual work?

Every child needs to feel they belong somewhere to be happy. They are a part of their family, city, society. They also need to feel that they're needed and helpful to others. The experience of success is vital as well. A child doesn't need to be the best one in class or otherwise exceptional, but they need to feel that they're good at something, or, at the very least, not worse than the majority at most activities.

Most children's activities besides games now take place at school. That is frequently the sole place where children can experience success or failure, unless they have an artistic or athletic talent. Although we place emphasis on making school evaluations as non-traumatizing as possible and carefully avoid evoking the feeling of constant failure, this is what children with below-average academic aptitude often perceive.

Particularly, these children had frequently drawn their self-esteem from their manual skills, crafts, and helping their family before. It also constituted the foundation of their future profession. They too often lack this opportunity now, although manual skills are still very much appreciated and sought, and there is a shortage of skilled craftsmen.

Leading children towards reasonable amounts of light, safe manual work and help at home should remain an integral part of upbringing. Its benefit lies not only in developing good work habits and improving self-esteem. Gaining experience and skills in various domestic and manual activities helps the development of a balanced personality and contributes to the motor as well as social abilities development, especially in low age. Additionally, for children less apt at school, “manual” work is an opportunity to do something they may be very good at, which they find fun, and which by far not everyone is able to do nowadays.

Manual activities had previously helped build children's self-confidence and became a part of their personal identity, especially for those children less apt at school. Though the children knew they perhaps couldn't solve a quadratic equation or hand in a flawless dictation transcript, they also knew that they could skilfully paint a fence, plant a tree, or provide a meal for their family every day by going to the grocery store.

One of the opportunities to help children with less academic aptitude battle their potential feelings of insufficient success and low confidence, and to increase their professional and social prospects, is to encourage and support their learning of manual skills, realizing their great value and knowing that they can rely on them.

About the Author
Petra Starkova, M.A.

Petra Starkova is a therapist and author who writes for children and adults.

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