Most children cannot evaluate themselves accurately; they use a "self-halo" or tend to emphasize favorable traits and deemphasize unfavorable ones. Not until adolescence can self-evaluation be expected to become more accurate and less biased.
Parents and teachers are seldom aware of the kind of self-concept a child is developing, and few try to make sure that it will be both realistic and favorable enough that the child will be willing to accept himself. The seriousness of the haphazard, uncontrolled development of the self-concept in childhood has been pointed out by Jersild:
From an early age, without being deliberate about it, he (the child) acquires ideas and attitudes about himself and others. These are woven into the pattern of his life. They may be true or false, healthy or morbid. Their development is left largely to chance.... A large proportion of children will move into adulthood troubled and unhappy about many things. Many will be afflicted by irrational fears which do not represent dangers in the external environment but unresolved problems within themselves. Many, as adults, will suffer from attitudes of hostility, vindictiveness, and defensiveness which are not a response to hostile forces in the outside world but represent attitudes carried over from unresolved childhood struggles. Many persons similarly will acquire persisting feelings of inferiority or other unhealthy attitudes regarding their personal worth which represent either an irrational estimate of themselves or a failure to accept themselves real istically as they are. In numerous ways there is a vast carry-over of unhealthy attitudes regarding self and others from childhood and adolescence into adult life.
The second important component of the personality pattern is the personality traits. A trait may be described as an aspect or dimension of personality which consists of a group of related and consistent reactions characteristic of a person's typical adjustment. It is a learned tendency to evaluate situations in a predictable manner and to react in a manner in which the individual has reacted more or less successfully in the past to similar situations in which he was similarly motivated. Because traits are not added, one to another, but are integrated into the pattern in which the self-concept is the "core," they are influenced by the self concept. A child who thinks of himself as inferior, for example, will develop characteristic methods of adjusting that will differ markedly from those developed by the child whose concept of self is more favorable.
Traits have two outstanding characteristics: individuality and consistency. Individuality refers not to the fact that each individual has certain traits that are peculiarly his own, but rather to the fact that he has his own individual "quantity" of a particular trait. As Woodworth has put it, "Traits are dimensions' of behavior in which individuals differ". No child has a corner on generosity, bravery, or any other desirable personality trait; every child has these traits, but in varying degrees. Most people cluster around the average in differ enttraits. This means that most children are about average in generosity, bravery, and sociability; the very generous, very brave, or very sociable child is as infrequently found as the very stingy, the very cowardly, or the very unsocial.
The second characteristic of all traits, consistency, means that a person behaves in approximately the same way in similar situations and under similar conditions. A child may be self-confident in a situation in which he has learned the necessary skills to make good adjustments, but in a situation in which he has had no previous experience, he may lack self-confidence or even show fear. Similarly, a child may befretful, irritable, and unsocial at a family gathering if he is tired, but quite the opposite if he is rested. There is an underlying pattern of consistency in a person's characteristic ad justments to life, however, although it is, like individuality, a matter of degree.
Development of Traits.
Traits are a product of learning; at the same time, they are based on a hereditary foundation. They are molded mainly by child training in the home and school and by imitation of the person with whom the child identifies himself. If the child identifies himself with the father, he will imitate the father's characteristic methods of reacting to people and situations to the point where it appears that he in herited these characteristics. Later, he will imitate the traits of members of the peer group, developing the characteristic methods of adjustment accepted and approved by the group.
Some personality traits are learned by trial and error. If a child discovers, more by chance than by imitation or direct teaching, that aggressiveness wins approval from the peer group or satisfies a need, he will repeat the aggressive behavior whenever a similar situation arises. In time, this will develop into his characteristic method of adjusting to frustrations, and he will be known as an "aggressive child”. Similarly, if a child discovers that he makes better adjustments by being rigid and inflexible, he will in time develop a "rigid person ality pattern"-a characteristic method of adjustment in which the child is emotionally disturbed unless things go the way he has become accustomed to having them go.