Cultivating self-awareness in young children (part 1) [Archives:2007/1068/Education]

July 16 2007

Bijayalaxmi Mohanty
[email protected]
Kendriya Vidyalaya, Jatni
Orissa, India

As children grow up, they undergo a mental maturation process which takes place along with their physical development. One of the elements of this maturation process is children's awareness of the 'self.' From the moment they are born, young children begin to learn about themselves, the people around them including their siblings, parents, relatives and the neighbors. In other words, they develop a sort of sensitivity towards their immediate environment. It involves a kind of interface between their 'self' and the world around them which makes them conscious of their identity and helps them to cultivate their total, essential qualities that distinguish them from others, and contribute to their individuality. This complex and composite 'being' of the child is also known as his 'ego' which defines his nature, character and abilities as an individual.

A young child's sense of self plays a crucial role in cultivating relationship not only with other people around them but with all subsequent learning as well (Dowling, 2000). Learning, as we know, is widely regarded as a lifelong activity which may occur intentionally or otherwise in a range of different learning environments including schools, colleges, universities and the workplace – all contributing to the awareness of 'self.'

Gaining knowledge and understanding of their 'self,' their own culture and community helps children develop a sense of belonging and strong self-image. Children gradually develop a culture of their own defined by their community and more meaningfully by their family. This personal culture develops in them their own self-image and self-esteem that gives them the mental, moral and psychological equipment to conduct themselves in life. If a child has a strong positive self-image and high self-esteem, it gives him the mental strength, conveyance and sense of security to maximize his potential, to make the most of the opportunities to communicate effectively, to interact with others confidently, to explore the world around him and to establish himself as a leader in various fields of human endeavor. On the other hand, if a child has a weak self concept, and a negative self-esteem, he is likely to be a social rake or a misfit in all walks of life.

There are essentially two elements to self-image:

1. 'self-concept' or becoming aware of who you are;

2. 'self-knowledge' or recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses.

Self concept: Developing 'self-concept' is a process rather than a product. It begins as early as infancy. From birth onwards young children build a picture of themselves based on their interaction with others and people's responses to them, particularly those with parents and siblings. Even babies are not immune to this process in so far as they recognize that they matter when they smile at a face that smiles back at them. Continuity in the relationship over a period of time helps the child to stabilize and further strengthen his self-concept of himself or herself within.

Stages of development of self concept:

Bec and Boyd (2004) have identified two main stages in the development of self-concept:

a. a subjective stage, which takes place during a child's first year when a baby is learning that he or she matters and can make things happen (e.g. can move an object)

b. an objective stage, when as a toddler, a child learns that he has a name, is a boy or a girl, is big or small, and so on.

As children grow older, they also become more knowledgeable of what they can or cannot do and how this relates to other children and adults. They begin to recognize when they need help and what they need it for. When their efforts are acknowledged, respected, praised, or rejected, that affects the regard they have for themselves. The two components of self-image which are 'concept' and 'knowledge' grow, develop and eventually become more complex as the children gain wider knowledge and experience in proportion to their physical growth.

In the next part, we'll analyze the role of family and society for the growth of self-concept.