Case Study 4
Esther and Ali, both five years old, are at a playground, looking at a climbing wall designed for five to 10 year olds.
Esther goes over to the wall, looks at it, and touches the climbing holds. She starts climbing, pulling herself up with her arms and putting her feet on the lower holds to relieve her arms.
When she is about six feet up the wall, Esther stops.
“Go on, Esther—you’re almost there! Come on, just one more push. You can do it!” calls out her father from the bench he is sitting on.
Esther looks at the top of the wall. She wants to make it all the way up, but her hands hurt from clutching the climbing holds. She lets go and lands on the soft covering of the playground.
“Oh—you almost made it,” her father calls out.
Ali’s father goes over to his son: “Do you want to try? Grab onto these with your hands, and then put your feet on the ones at the bottom. Then you move your hands up more, and then your feet—hands and feet… Go slowly; it’ll be tricky to start with. Check where the holds are before you start climbing.”
Ali goes to the foot of the wall and grabs the holds to see what they feel like. He starts climbing, following his father’s advice.
Ali climbs slowly. He is about halfway up the wall, far below where Esther reached. He asks to get down, and his father takes him in his arms and puts him on the ground.
“Great job, son! That was really good for a first try! I’m proud of you. That wall isn’t easy—it’s for children up to 10.”
In these two examples of the same situation, what is the impact of each parent’s behavior on the child’s self-esteem? What will each child remember from their first try at climbing?
Esther will probably be left with a sense of failure, thinking that she disappointed her father because she didn’t reach the top of the wall on her first try. She may not be willing to try again in the future, and she may hesitate to take on other new challenges.
Even though he didn’t reach as high as Esther, Ali’s first climbing experience will likely be gratifying to him. His efforts have been recognized and encouraged by his father. He may be motivated now to make new efforts in the future, both in climbing and in other challenging new activities.