A Unique Child

Why we need to nurture early learners’ self-belief

  • Why we need to nurture early learners’ self-belief

It’s time to ‘focus on the locus’ and ensure our children leave us with the confidence they need to excel at school, says James Boddey…

‘Locus of evaluation’ is a term first used by Carl Rogers, the father of the person-centred counselling approach, and is, in my opinion, one of the most important terms in early years care and education.

Let’s begin by understanding what it is and what it means. ‘Locus’ is Latin for ‘place’ so the term describes the place from which a person makes a value judgement or the place from where they are evaluated.

Rogers (in the 1950s) wrote that there are two places from which evaluation can come – internal or external.

If a child or person is operating from an internal locus of evaluation, then they trust their own instincts and the evaluation of their actions comes from within.

However, many people, and especially children, operate from an external locus of evaluation – this means they use the values of others as a guide to evaluating their actions and ideas.

We see it all of the time in life: people judging themselves according to whether others find them acceptable.

Modern culture and the rise in social media has seen a vast shift towards getting ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ or things and seeking desperately to be accepted and valued by others – even those we do not know.

What we are seeing now is when the locus of evaluation moves so far to the external locus it is easy to lose touch of your internal locus of evaluation, your own self-worth and your own belief in yourself or instincts.

News reports often remind us of the statistics around bullying, self-harm, suicide, low self-esteem, low confidence and how these are all on the rise and starting at a younger age.

Children and young people are accessing social media and all forms of media at a younger age and when this happens you find plenty of external influences on your thoughts and actions.

In the setting

It is perfectly natural for children to seek approval and value from practitioners in the setting as they seek approval and value from their parents/carers.

A two-year-old will most likely not have a high level of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-awareness. They will be relying on adults in their life to nurture them, celebrate their successes, support them through challenges and generally be there for them.

This means that a two-year-old who enters your setting for the first time may have little to no internal locus of evaluation. The only praise, value or feeling of self-worth they receive will come totally from external source, but as they grow and develop this will change.

What can we do?

We are in the right place at the right time as early years practitioners. We are perfectly located to value, respect and nurture each and every child’s internal locus of evaluation.

We must impose our respective nurseries’ rules and boundaries, but we should be creating an environment that encourages and supports a strong belief in oneself, a strong belief in each individual’s achievement and actions, and a culture where children are seen as individuals with their own unique potential development and personality.

We should be recognising how each child is unique and creating a learning path and environment that will meet their individual needs and future potential.

‘School readiness’ should mean being ready for the next challenge in their young life, being emotionally, personally and socially ready to accomplish all they can as a unique individual.

How is this possible?

Excellent question. How can we help each child to have belief in themselves as an individual (internal locus of evaluation) when the system seems to want us to evaluate that child against a universal norm and judge their achievement accordingly (external locus of evaluation)?

The answer, in my opinion, is we must accept and do both. From the child’s perspective we nurture good self-esteem and self-confidence, and build their ability to say “I can do this” and believe in themselves.

We do this through allowing them to follow their own ideas and creating an environment that supports them to flourish as an individual. We do this by accepting them as an individual with the potential to develop in a unique and special way.

Some four-year-olds love sitting down and singing whilst some four-year-olds would rather be outside looking for worms. No one child is ‘better’ when you see them all as individuals all seeking their own unique full potential.

We have to accept that there is some value in comparisons to the universal norm, but I can not see a reason why this external locus of evaluation would be beneficial from the child’s perspective.

The key message is that as we grow up our locus of evaluation changes: social media, peer pressure, TV and movies all put pressure on us to seek value and seek approval.

It is impossible to live your life without an external locus of evaluation and taking it away completely isn’t the answer; it’s all about balance, accepting who you are and having trust and belief in yourself.

It is also our main role as early year practitioners to ensure each child has the resources, time and loving relationships to build a good internal locus of evaluation.

We must support children in accepting who they are, how they are different to others and help them to recognise and celebrate that fact.

To encourage children to explore different outcomes and how not every tower we build, every flower we paint, every song we sing is the same.

But, however you built your tower, painted your flower or sung your song, you will be accepted, welcomed and equally praised. In this environment children will grow to accept what they have achieved as an individual for what it is and not for how it compares to others.

That is what every child needs to build a strong foundation for the rest of their life.


James is the director of Busy Bodies Child Care Centre in Ludlow. He believes passionately in a child-centred approach to early years care and education and this has influenced the ethos and philosophy of the centre.

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