Promoting Self-Efficacy in Youth

By Reivich, Karen | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, November 2010 | Go to article overview

Promoting Self-Efficacy in Youth


Reivich, Karen, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


RESEARCH-BASED PRACTICE

"I think I can. I think I can. I think I can." These words have been read to . school-age children since the 1930 publication of The Little Engine That Could (Piper, 1930) and they capture the central tenant of self-efficacy theory: an individual's belief in his/her ability to bring about a desired outcome is a primary determinant in perseverance and the pursuit of goal attainment (Bandura, 1977). Researchers have linked self-efficacy to a wide array of outcomes including psychological adjustment, resilience, physical health, achievement, and self-regulation, among others (Bandura, 1997; Dweck, 2006; Reivich & Shatte, 2002; Maddux & Lewis, 1995). In this article, I will describe self-efficacy and the factors that contribute to it, highlight the positive outcomes that selfefficacy leads to, andprovide examples of how the Fishful Thinking initiative helps parents and educators to build self-efficacy in children and adolescents. These concepts also link well with this year's School Psychology Awareness Week theme, "Today is a good day to ... SHINE," because many of the messages and activities associated with the theme directly reinforce self-efficacy and empowerment.

BUILDING BLOCKS OF SELF-EFFICACY

Self-efficacy is the belief that one can use his/ her skills, talents, and abilities to attain a desired goal (Bandura, 1977). "I can learn that new guitar piece and will do a good job in the jazz band try-outs" is an example of a selfefficacious belief. Efficacy beliefs highlight that the individual perceives himself as having agency andthe ability to influence the outcome of a situation. Self-efficacy is central in coordinating cognitions, motivation, and behavior because self-efficacy beliefs play a key role in the individu- al's choice of activities and the amount of energy and persistence one will invest in a given pursuit. Put simply, children and adolescents low in self-efficacy are more likely to perceive themselves as incompetent, to underestimate the amount of control they have, and to overestimate the likelihood of failure when engaging in a new task.

Bandura (1995) describes four sources that contribute to the development of selfefficacy in youth. First are the child's mastery experiences - her attempts to control or influence her environment. When a child successfully controls her environment (e.g., builds a tower out of blocks, works out a problem with a peer, earns a good grade on a test) and attributes the positive outcome to her own efforts, her self-efficacy will strengthen. Conversely, when a child is unsuccessful at controlling her environment and attributes the failure to herself, her self-efficacy will weaken. Attributional style is an important aspect of how a child attributes the cause of success (or failure). According to Seligman (1991), when an individual attributes a success to internal, stable, and global factors ("I got an A on my test because I am smart and know how to study") he will experience a sense of mastery and this will reinforce his self-efficacy. When a child attributes a success to external, unstable, and specific factors ("Total luck! The test was really easy and the teacher gave everyone good grades."), he will not experience a sense of mastery or efficacy.

A second building block of self-efficacy comes through a child's observations of others. When a child sees someone who is similar to himself work hard to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle, the child develops the belief that he, too, can successfully negotiate his environment (Bandura, 1986). For example, if a first-grade child sees her friend climb to the top of the jungle gym after several attempts, the first grader might think to herself, "If Laura can do it, I can too." Researchers have found that these vicarious experiences influence self-efficacy and that the process is strongly affected by the perceived similarity between the child and the other individual.

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