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Children and Identity: How Toddlers Develop a Sense of Self

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Formerly we have discussed the importance of self care for children. But this time we want to dig deeper into a more fundamental topic about the content of self and identity.  According to the Journal of Educational and Social Research, children begin to develop a self identity at a very young age.

Early childhood education is a critical component of fostering self esteem and helping young children develop their sense of self. In this post, we’ll discuss the topic of self identity and look at fun self-concept activities for preschoolers and toddlers. 

What is the Concept of Self-Identity?

So what exactly is a sense of self? Self-identity or a sense of self is what a person believes or understands about who they are, their social connections, and their abilities, separate from others. As a child develops, they begin to form relationships with family and friends that help them build their self-esteem and set the stage for future growth, development and social connections. 

Research shows that children derive a sense of pride, self-worth, and consistency from their social identities. They can also help promote caring and fostering supportive relationships, and provide a sense of belonging. 

For children, the idea of self identity can come from answering the questions, ‘Who am I?’ What will I be when I grow up?’ Often a child’s sense of identity can be shaped by their experiences, interactions with others, the local environment, and their own unique personality. 

How Old Are Kids When They Start to Become Self-Aware?

Many people wonder, when do babies become self aware? When a baby is first born, it has no concept that it is a separate entity from its mother or other beings. As a child grows they begin to develop a sense of themselves and what they can do, what they like and who they are as a person. 

Around the age of three, this development increases dramatically. They begin to see themselves in concrete observable categories like ‘child or grown-up’ or ‘short or tall,’ ‘black hair or blond hair. At first, these categories are simple and either one thing or the other, but as the child learns, they become more complex. As their long term memory develops, they start to incorporate memories into their sense of self and develop inner thoughts and feelings. 

Best Self-Concept Activities for Preschoolers

These age appropriate games and activities can help your child develop a sense of self and are a lot of fun for children and caregivers. 

Mirror Play

Mirror Play is a fun way for babies to start to recognize themselves and discover their appearance. Find a full-length unbreakable mirror and place it somewhere in your home that is accessible to your baby. Place your baby in front of the mirror and watch how they interact with the other ‘baby in the mirror.’ 

At first, they may be curious why the baby smiles when they do or reaches out to touch when they touch the mirror. Eventually, your baby will start to recognize that the baby in the mirror is them. 

Pictures and Videos

Using pictures of your child and other family members around the house can help your child recognize themselves in relation to other members of the family. Show your baby the pictures and point to people they know. Ask, who is that? And say their name. Eventually, your baby will recognize siblings and other family members and themselves. 

Cause and Effect

Activities that show a clear cause and effect connection help show young children that their actions can impact their surroundings. Young children learn by experimenting, and it helps to think of them like little scientists searching for discoveries.

What will happen if I throw this block? What happens if I pull the cat’s tail?  Some actions may give them an enjoyable reaction, and kids will quickly learn from negative consequences (i.e., don’t pull the cat’s tail).

There are many cause and effect toys available, but they can also be made with simple objects. Toys like placing a ball in a hole to roll down a ramp into a bucket are surprising and entertaining for young ones. Other toys that encourage interaction, like hammering in a peg to have it pop up the other side, can teach about shapes, force, and interacting in the world. 


Playtime is an opportunity for parents and caregivers to follow the child’s lead and encourage their interests. Actively engage with your child through play they choose and encourage them to take risks and support them through challenges. The sense of accomplishment when they finish a difficult task can help build confidence and trust that they can handle difficult situations. 

Why Parents Should Support Their Child’s Identity

Having a positive sense of self can help young children develop high self esteem and encourage them to take risks in learning and development. A negative self-concept can affect a child’s confidence and belief in themselves with long term effects. 

A strong sense of self can also help them develop relationships and set a strong foundation for future social interactions. It is also important not to stress one part of their identity too much but remind them that they are many things, a child, a sibling, a caring friend, a fun cousin, an athlete, or even a curious student. Building a positive self image for a child is a critical element and should be a priority for parents and early childhood educators. 

Vivvi: Putting Your Child At The Center of Our Early Learning Program

At Vivvi, our student-led educational program puts your child’s development at the center of learning. We foster each child’s curiosity and encourage them to follow their interests by creating a curriculum that follows and develops those interests. Schedule a virtual tour to get more information on our program and facilities.

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