How can you deal with self-incompetence

Early Education Online

But self-competence is also a basis for professional action for early childhood education professionals.

Definition of self-competence

The core of self-competence is the ability to deal with one's own feelings. This results in a bundle of different components such as calming yourself down, motivating yourself and processing feedback, which are important for personal development and learning processes. It also includes the ability to plan, to resist temptations, to concentrate on task-relevant matters, to take contradictions seriously and to integrate them or to learn from mistakes (Künne / Sauerhering 2012).

The beginning: perceiving feelings

In order to be able to deal with one's own feelings - i.e. to be self-competent - various prerequisites are required. Trust in yourself and the world is fundamental. This enables openness and confidence to open up new spaces and options for action. This basic security already arises in early childhood from secure attachments (Ahnert 2011). In its further development the child learns to perceive its own feelings. By perceiving itself, it receives information about how it feels and what it needs (Kuhl 2001). Emotional self-expression is closely related to this (Petermann / Wiedebusch 2008). Here the child shows his emotional state to a caregiver through facial expressions, gestures or physically. From the reactions, for example when the child's sad face is mirrored, they receive feedback about their condition. The child learns to differentiate between feelings and emotional states and begins to regulate them. With increasingly autonomous regulation of feelings (self-reassurance and self-motivation) one can speak of self-competence.

The regulation of feelings

In order for the child to learn to deal with their feelings, it is important that they experience appreciation and recognition. If, for example, there is a positive reaction to the child's smile (Ahnert 2011), this is an expression of a trusting and appreciative relationship. Before children can calm down or motivate themselves without outside help, they need encouragement, reassurance and praise from others. Here the primary caregivers, but also professional pedagogical specialists, play an important role. Your sensitive perception and observation (Ainsworth et al. 1978) is of central importance because the needs of the child can be recognized on this basis. And this perception on the part of the caregiver is decisive for the child to feel taken seriously and understood. Calming or motivating interventions, on the other hand, fail to have an effect if a child does not feel accepted (Künne et al.). Another pillar for the development of self-competence are self-efficacy experiences. The degree of confidence in one's own self-efficacy is a fundamental individual resource that enables children to accept offers and implement opportunities for realization (World Vision Children's Study 2010). Again, it is important that the child's actions elicit appropriate responses, as shown below.

Promotion of self-competence in the day-care center

In order to promote the self-competence of children, three basic elements of elementary educational practice can be linked: relationship, observation and design of the learning environment.
For elementary pedagogical specialists, the initiation and design of professional pedagogical relationships is a core element of their work. The foundation for exploration - for discovery and learning - is laid in the day-care center by creating bond-like relationships (Sauerhering 2016). When educators see themselves as development guides in their relationship with the children, they encourage the development of self-competence in children. The prerequisite is that children are taken seriously as experts in their own development and that the specialist enters into a dialogue with them about their development and learning progress. Children can then experience themselves as effective in an exchange with the caregiver (specialist).

Observation is closely connected with the formation of the relationship. A sensitive accompaniment of children is characterized by the fact that the right amount of support is provided: So does the child actually need the intervention of the caregiver or is their presence perhaps enough to give the child sufficient security to tackle a problem alone? In order to be able to respond empathically to the needs and expressions of the child, educators must have good access to themselves, which in turn forms the basis of their own self-competence. Because if someone is under pressure, is hectic or stressed, it is not possible to perceive one's own feelings or those of the other person, nor to fall back on one's own archive of knowledge and experiences (Künne / Kuhl 2014). However, this access is necessary so that the elementary education specialist can see where the child is and what it needs. In this way, children can be supported in their self-education processes.

The stimulating design of the learning environment has the potential to stimulate the child's learning. This also means the spatial, temporal, instrumental and personal embedding of learning and development processes. The learning environment therefore encompasses the entire facility: starting with the conception and room design, through the temporal structuring of everyday pedagogical work, through to the planning of individual offers. The starting point is always that children can become active themselves in order to experience themselves as self-effective. It is important to expect challenges to children. And here, too, an appreciative relationship and resource-oriented observation form the starting point for educational action, which enables the educator to tie in with the child's level of development, to accompany it in its development and to support it in coping with its developmental tasks.
Questions such as the following can serve as a means of reflection in this context: Have I oriented myself towards the child’s resources? Have I based the selection of topics, games, offers and methods on the needs of the children? Did the selection pose any challenges for (individual) children? Have I been able to help you overcome this or have you even managed it yourself?


In the upbringing and educational mandate of the day care center, the promotion of the children's personality is expressly formulated (SGB VIII; exemplary Lower Saxony law on day care facilities for children, Sections 2 and 3). The promotion of self-competence can be seen as a central aspect of this mandate. However, it is a challenge not to lose oneself in individual activities or in the promotion of partial competencies in everyday pedagogical work - especially against the background of the demands that are increasingly being made of professionals from all sides (e.g. educational policy and parents). But it is precisely the basic tasks of educational work in the day-care center, such as building and maintaining relationships, that require rest and time. It is almost impossible for educators to promote self-competence when there is too much pressure on them, which reduces their own self-access and thus also prevents, if not prevents, then at least making it more difficult to empathize with the child. In this context, it must be pointed out again that a very good personnel key is necessary. Only if there is sufficient, qualified staff available, the individual skilled workers can use their own self-competence in everyday professional life in such a way that the self-competence develops in the children. The professional pedagogical attitude of the specialists is trend-setting. It includes technical knowledge as well as professional attitudes according to which theories are evaluated and applied in practice

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Ainsworth, M .; Blehar, M .; Waters, E .; Wall, S .: Patterns of Attachment. Hillsdale, NJ. 1978.

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Künne, T .; Kuhl, J .: What actually is self-competence? Personality system interactions as the basis of self-competence (promotion) - The PSI theory. In: Solzbacher, C .; Calvert, K. (ed.): "I can‘ manage it ... "How children can develop self-competence. Freiburg 2014.

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From the archive of Early Education Online, first published on December 13, 2016