How do children learn about their “me”? [+ self-image booster!]

by Yora Nusselder | Updated on:  April 28, 2021

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Self-image consists of the beliefs a person has about himself, but is influenced by the people around him.

Your child does not just have a self-image of himself, but develops it through their contact with others, and therefore especially WITH YOU.

Contrary to what the word suggests, a self-image is actually not entirely of 'yourself'. A good self-image is extremely important for each of us and has a major influence on our self-confidence.

To develop a certain self-image, you first need a sense of self; the awareness that you exist apart from the rest of the world.

Besides a self-image, we also develop a self-esteem; the latter is more emotionally oriented. Self-esteem is about the self-esteem of the child or person, with all the positive and negative qualities that go with it.

But how do children learn about their own 'I', how does that development progress from baby to adolescent?

A baby gradually learns to imagine itself. Toddlers and preschoolers are especially self-centered. As they grow, children become empathetic and by elementary school age can describe themselves in both external and psychological traits. Adolescents learn that people can see them differently from how they see themselves.

As a parent, it is very important to know how children learn who they are, about their “I”, their self-image and self-esteem, and how this develops over the years.

However, I would not want to write this article if I do not also have a number of practical tips to give you as a parent to positively influence the self-image of your child!

Oh, and I have something for every age of your child.

How does a baby learn about itself?

When a baby looks in the mirror before its first year of life, it has no idea who or what it is looking at.

Between six and 18 months, a baby does become interested in its own reflection; it will laugh and look at it, even if it does not know exactly who or what it is seeing.

Children are not born with thoughts about themselves. They learn about themselves through what is said to them by others and how others behave towards them.

In the second half of its first year of life, a baby does not learn to imagine itself.

The first years of a child's life are extremely important for developing a (positive) self-image, and the role of parents in this is crucial.

When people treat a baby positively, it can develop a positive self-image. Self-image continues to develop and grow over the years.

How can you boost your baby's self-image?

The parenting style of parents during the first three to four years has a great impact on a child's self-esteem.

When a child is given a loving and consistent upbringing, they will develop a healthy self-esteem.

Here are some tips to boost your baby's self-image:

A child will put anything in their mouth, but that will allow them to explore the world around them. Don't say it's dirty if it isn't, or you can confuse the child and their self-image.

In addition, if you raise your child independently, it will develop a self-image more quickly than children who are raised in a dependent manner.

Your role as a parent in promoting a positive self-image from birth is very important. A positive self-image has a huge impact on self-confidence.

A child who grows up with a healthy dose of self-confidence will believe in themselves and also in what they can do.

A child with a negative self-image will be insecure and unloved. And this is of course reflected in certain behavior.

Read also: Hugging | Why it is necessary and good for your child

How does self-image develop in the toddler and toddler years?

Toddlers and pre-schoolers are already able to describe themselves concretely in terms of external or physical properties: 'I can draw well' or 'I can run fast'.

The description will not always be accurate and they tend to overestimate themselves. Their vision of the future is always positive!

In these years, a child will also increasingly develop its own will, which can manifest itself in tantrums because a child is not yet able to express its emotions properly.

Between 18 and 24 months, children are more or less aware of their abilities and physical properties and also understand that their shape is roughly stable. They can now see themselves as separate from others.

Toddlers and preschoolers realize that they themselves have feelings and thoughts and are especially still very busy with themselves.

Read also: How do children learn to play and socialize together?

Even though they do not compare themselves at all with others at this stage, they will unnoticed learn to empathize with others.

A child will notice when someone is crying and will try to provide comfort. Nevertheless, empathizing with others is still difficult for toddlers and preschoolers.

They are especially self-centered. It is not until around the second year of life that children start to develop a sense of self-worth and can reflect from another's perspective.

A child learns more and more about his own 'I' and the development of the self-image continues into adolescence.

By the age of eight, a child will have a relatively stable idea of ​​his or her own personality traits and whether he or she feels like a valuable child.

How can you boost your toddler's or preschooler's self-image?

As your little one grows, there are other ways to keep boosting his or her self-image positively.

In the event of a tantrum, do not go into it too much, otherwise the child will get such a temper more often, because otherwise they will know that they are getting attention. Above all, try to ignore it. Teach your children that there are limits.

Love and security are the basic conditions for healthy social-emotional development.

If a child feels appreciated, they will more easily develop a positive self-image, regardless of whether they succeed or fail.

By giving positive feedback, you make your child feel good about themselves, which in turn has a positive effect on their self-image.

You give positive feedback in the form of, among other things compliments to your child, read expert advice & fun play tips here

How does self-image develop in primary school age?

During this phase, a child develops skills to deal with problems with everyone around him or her: parents, classmates, peers, etc.

At the same time, it tries to gain a place in the social world.

What is striking is that it is only when a child goes to primary school that it learns to look at itself more psychologically.

Before school, most kids have a certain image of themselves; everything is either positive or negative.

However, because children of primary school age start to think more and more abstractly, the description of themselves also becomes more abstract.

Self-image becomes more differentiated and children learn that in addition to good qualities, they also have less good skills.

Self-describing moves from a motor description ("I can run very fast") or external characteristics to psychological characteristics ("I am friendly").

In this phase they also get more and more different role models and people to compare themselves with. This can have both a positive and negative effect on the self-image and self-esteem of the child.

Especially when they cannot objectively assess their abilities, they will soon be inclined to look at others with whom they correspond.

When comparing themselves, a distinction can be made between upward and downward social comparison.

With upward social comparison, children compare themselves to others who outperform themselves.

This has a good and a less good side: it can ensure that a child performs better, but it can also generate negative feelings.

That is precisely why children often choose downward social comparison: comparing yourself to others who are clearly less successful than you protects your self-image and makes you less likely to feel negative or bad.

How does an adolescent's self-image develop?

During adolescence, there are two important questions that young people ask themselves: who am I and where do I belong?

A child of about thirteen is very aware of the new place it has to conquer in his or her social life.

A primary school child had slowly begun to develop abstract skills; in an adolescent, this process is in full swing.

They now understand the importance of conquering their own place in society and forming an image of themselves.

A significant change at this stage is that an adolescent realizes that there is a distinction between how others see them and the way they see themselves. The views of others now play an important role.

In developing their self-image, they bring their own opinions, those of others, but also different aspects of themselves with them.

This can cause confusion. They like to see themselves in a certain way and become frustrated when their behavior does not match that 'ideal image'.

When they come to the end of adolescence, they will understand that there are different feelings, different behaviors, as well as different situations.

The description of the 'self' also changes: they describe themselves on the basis of social and psychological properties.

They have a physical self-image ('I am good at…'), a social self-image ('I have many friends') and a school-bound self-image '(I get bad results for history').

Sometimes some contradictions can arise from this. Adolescents are getting a better self-image and therefore come to understand who they really are.

However, they can also find out that they are not very satisfied with themselves (self-esteem).

It has been found that when children have a higher socio-economic status, they also have more self-esteem.

In this difficult time, it is important as a parent to emphasize that your child can always talk to you if something is bothering you. There must be open communication and space to talk about feelings.

How do you stimulate the self-image of primary school children and adolescents?

As I have mentioned several times in this article, as a parent you have a major influence on your child's self-image. It is important that you maintain a supportive parenting style.

As your child grows, there are new ways to continue to stimulate your child's self-image.

How to help as a parent to a positive self-image of your primary school child or adolescent?

As a parent you are an important feedback provider to your child, just like a number of other people who are important in your child's life, such as family members, but also, for example, a childcare worker or football coach.

In puberty, they become friends who influence self-image.

It therefore becomes less sensitive to feedback from people older than the child itself, feedback from peers becomes more important.

Always give your child the opportunity to confide in you with problems or grief. As a parent, you have a crucial role in breaking the cycle of failure, or increasing self-esteem.

When children have a strong self-esteem, it is much easier to move towards a positive development compared to children who have little self-esteem.

Children with low self-esteem expect less success from themselves, which will result in less effort and therefore less performance.

Children are often more successful with a strong self-esteem; they are less anxious and will exert themselves strongly.

Being a good parent isn't always easy, but it's something you can work on! Pedagogy for parents | Is it something to learn for your family?

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Speelkeuze.nl is a content marketer, father and loves trying out new toys. As a child, he came into contact with everything around games when his mother started the Tin Soldier in Ede. Since 2016, he and his team have been creating helpful blog articles to help loyal readers with fun play ideas.
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