The Development of Self in a child

How much time you spend in looking yourself in a mirror? Have you ever seen a kid watching himself/herself in the mirror. Seeing yourself in mirror implies that you have sense of yourself. It is the awareness & knowledge that your are an a being , a independent social entity to which others react. Self-concept, the set of attributes, abilities, attitudes, and values that an individual believes defines who he or she is.
Very young infants do not have a sense of themselves as individuals. They do not recognize themselves in photos or mirrors. But, the process of development of self-awareness, knowledge of oneself, development of self- recognition, begin to grow at around the age of 12 months. Research suggests that this 18-month-old is exhibiting a developed sense of self.

Development of self-awareness.

Beginnings of Self-Awareness. At birth, infants sense that they are physically distinct from their surroundings. For example, newborns display a stronger rooting reflex in response to external stimulation (an adult’s finger touching their cheek) than to self-stimulation (their own hand contacting their cheek).
Over the first few months, infants distinguish their own visual image from other stimuli, but their self-awareness is limited—expressed only in perception and action.
Infants develop awareness of their own physical characteristics and capabilities. They understand that their appearance is stable over time.  At this age infants develop a basic understanding of themselves and also the beginning of an understanding of how the mind operates i. e. “theory of mind (Lewis & Ramsay, 2004; Lewis & Carmody, 2008; Langfur, 2013).
Theory of mind focus on the knowledge and beliefs about how the mind works and how it affects behavior. It explains that children use to explain how others think. For instance Infant can ask for more chocolates (Slaughter & Peterson, 2012).
10- and 13-month-olds are able to mentally represent social dominance. They believe that larger size is related to the ability to dominate other, smaller sized individuals and objects. Furthermore, the infants have a kind of innate morality, in which they show a preference for helpfulness (Hamlin et al., 2011; Thomsen et al., 2011; Sloane, Baillargeon, & Premack, 2012; Ruffman, 2014).
Some infants as young as 12 months seem startled on seeing the rouge spot, for most a reaction does not occur until between 17 and 24 months of age. It is also around this age that children begin to show awareness of their own capabilities.
What experiences contribute to gains in self-awareness? During the first year, as infants act on the environment, they probably notice effects that help them sort out self, other people, and objects (Nadel, Prepin, & Okanda, 2005; Rochat, 2013).
18 months old infant begin to understand that others’ behaviors have meaning or goals as compared to the “behaviors” of nonliving objects. For example, a child comes to understand that his father has a specific goal while making food but his father’s car has no mental life or goal (Ahn, Gelman, & Amsterlaw, 2000; Wellman et al., 2008; Senju et al., 2011).
Infants’ growing sense of mental activity by the age of two, infants begin to show the basic of empathy. Empathy is corresponds to the feelings of another person. Infant feel bad when you cry in front of him/her. At 24 months of age, infants sometimes comfort others or show concern for them, which shows that they are aware of the emotional states of others (Mumme & Fernald, 2003).
Infants begin to use deception, both in games of “pretend” and in outright attempts to fool others. A child who plays “ pretend” and who uses falsehoods must be aware that others hold beliefs about the world—beliefs that can be manipulated.


Self-awareness also contributes to effortful control, the extent to which children can inhibit impulses, manage negative emotion, and behave in socially acceptable ways. To behave in a self-controlled fashion, children must think of themselves as separate, autonomous beings who can direct their own actions.

Between 12 and 18 months, toddlers first become capable of compliance. They show clear awareness of caregivers’ wishes and expectations and can obey simple requests and commands. Compliance quickly leads to toddlers’ first conscience like verbalizations—for example, correcting the self by saying “No, can’t” before reaching for a cookie or jumping on the sofa.

Researchers often study the early emergence of self-control by giving children tasks that, like the situations just mentioned, require delay of gratification—waiting for an appropriate time and place to engage in a tempting act. Children who are advanced in development of attention, language, and suppressing negative emotion tend to be better at delaying gratification— findings that help explain why girls are typically more self-controlled than boys (Else-Quest, 2012).

To know more about developments in infants, click here
  1. Robert. S. Feldman. (2017). Development Across the Lifespan. (8th ed.). Pearson Education.
  2. Laura. E. Berk. (2018). Development Through the Lifespan (7th ed.). Pearson Education.

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