Although self-esteem is forming it is not measurable before the age of five or six because up until this time the two functions of self-esteem, competence and worthiness, operate independently of each other (Mruk:1995).
Between the ages of five and eight self-esteem becomes increasingly defined. Children begin to make judgments about their self worth and competence in five areas: physical appearance, social acceptance, scholastic ability, athletic and artistic skills and behaviour (Harter:1983 cited in Joseph:1994). These areas make up the child's global view of his/her self. Self-esteem emerges at this point in childhood because the child is able to initiate behaviour with competence, evaluate his or her accomplishments in terms of their worthiness and experience a process or attitude between the two (Mruk:1995). As a child's age increases so to do their social contacts, life experiences and the expectations placed upon them. The child develops an increasing awareness of those things they are good at and those they are not good at. Inevitably self-esteem begins to effect behaviour as the individual attempts to maintain and protect their sense of self worth against the challenges, problems and experiences of life. Self-esteem acts as a filter through which we judge our performances. In this way it determines how we approach future tasks.
By adulthood self-esteem has changed from a mostly reactive phenomenon to one that can be consciously acted upon to either increase or decrease feelings of self worth. As adults we are confronted by many situations that affect our levels of self-esteem. Epstein (1979 cited in Mruk:1995) has extensively researched those situations that most typically affect self-esteem in adulthood. These are success-failure experiences where individuals either deal successfully or unsuccessfully with a situation and acceptance-rejection situations which are interpersonal in nature. Romantic relationships, peer relationships, and relationships with family members are typical contexts which can effect self-esteem.