Social Development of Infants: Stages of Self and Temperament

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  • 0:06 Stages of Self
  • 3:22 Temperament
  • 4:47 Knowing Temperament
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

When do infants start gaining self-awareness? We will explore the stages infants go through as they increase their knowledge of themselves. We will also look into the typical temperaments of infants.

Stages of Self in Infancy

Throughout our lives, we develop a sense of ourselves - who we are, what we are about, and how we fit into the world. But how does that first step in getting to know ourselves happen? It actually starts with the very basics of realizing we are separate individuals, with our own thoughts, actions, and abilities to interact with the world. This initial awareness of ourselves starts soon after birth and into the first few years of infancy.

Meet baby Mark. Mark is developing like many other babies. He was just recently born, and his actions are already goal-oriented for survival - as he instinctively cries when he's hungry.

A couple of months pass, and he continues to grow in the awareness that he is a different being from the world around him. Specifically, he recognizes that his body is a separate entity from his mother and father.

At around three months old, Mark starts recognizing familiar and unfamiliar faces. When his sister enters his room, he feels calm and content. However, when the new nanny showed up yesterday, he felt uncomfortable and scared. He is also starting to grab for toys now and seems to know how far to reach in order to grab them. He can sense where his body is in relation to the object, and he is enjoying the ways he can act on his environment.

Mark's mother has been reading a book on the development of self-awareness in infants. She reads that around 18 months, babies start reacting to their names. She calls him by name all the time and is looking forward to watching him respond to it.

Fast-forward several months - Mark has just had his one year birthday. Mark's mother has just read about a simple test to see how self-aware a child is. She tries it out today on Mark. First, she puts a spot of rouge on his cheek. Then, she places him in front of a mirror. She talks to him lovingly as he moves his arms and hands, and smiles. The test explains that if the baby notices that the image in the mirror is his, he will reach for the rouge on his face. Mark, however, does not do this. Instead, he just smiles and laughs. He seems mesmerized, as if he were interacting with another person, who oddly enough, is moving while he is. His mother decides to try the test again when he turns two or soon after, as she read that is the most common time for a baby to 'pass' the rouge test.

Another year and a half goes by, and Mark's mother suddenly remembers the test. She puts the spot of rouge on his face again and sits him in front of the mirror. Suddenly, a strange and surprised look covers his face. He touches his cheek, and upon feeling the rouge, wipes it away with his hand. He looks up at his mother, again in the mirror, and actually looks embarrassed. He seems uncomfortable and starts backing away. 'Mark,' she says, and he now looks at her in response, 'it's okay.'

It's quite a milestone when children pass the rouge test. First, it means they recognize themselves in the mirror. For many children, it also means they feel embarrassment for the first time, which is a form of putting themselves in the mind of another person and how they might view them; quite a step for an infant. Other than this example of embarrassment, however, two and three year olds do not yet understand another person's point of view.


Mark's mother has been thankful for his calm and content nature. When she had his sister, Betsy, four years earlier, she was not so easy to manage. She used to cry easily, have trouble sleeping, and be resistant to calming techniques. Mark and Betsy were born with two different temperaments.

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