Indicator: Self-Concept (SELF)

Children show self-awareness and a positive self-concept

During the infant, toddler, and preschool years, children experience dramatic growth in their awareness that they are separate beings with emotions, interests, and abilities of their own. Simultaneously, but at a slower pace, they become aware of others as individuals, as well.

Infants begin life unaware that they are individuals separate from their caregivers and their surroundings. Toward the end of the first year, however, they begin to see themselves as distinct individuals. They begin to respond to their names and recognize themselves in the mirror. They also begin to have a sense of themselves in relation to important people in their lives. Most children this age are strongly attached to their primary caregiver and fear losing sight of that person.

As children grow and develop, they become more mobile and verbal. They delight in exploring things and people in their environment. Given time and space, young children are amazingly persistent as they work to accomplish specific tasks, for example, putting a big doll into a small car or trying again and again to reach a light switch. They also take great pride in their accomplishments and appreciate an audience. They seek and appreciate attention and validation, especially from their significant adults.

"Me" and "mine" are spoken with increasing frequency. Young children become quick to insist "Me do it" to let others know they don’t need help with the tasks they’ve mastered, such as taking their shoes off. As their vocabulary grows, they begin to talk about their physical characteristics and the things they like. In addition, they become aware of important relationships with others. This awareness might be demonstrated by referring to a brother as "My David," for example, or by carrying around a family picture.

Soon, children develop a vocabulary for expressing their feelings and needs. They begin to say "I’m hungry" or "I’m mad" instead of leaving it up to others to figure out what is going on inside of them. With guidance and support, they learn what they need to do to manage those feelings and inform others of how they feel and what they need, for example, by saying "I’m scared. Can I stay by you?"

As preschool children become more aware of their peers, they begin to compare themselves, their appearance and their abilities, to others. "Fredo and me both don’t get scared of thunder" or "You like to eat cheese and I don’t, right?" About the same time, they will be able to label the feelings of others by looking at and "reading" body language and faces.