What is Self-Concept in Early Childhood?

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  • 0:04 Finding Oneself
  • 0:59 Trust vs. Mistrust
  • 1:59 Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt
  • 2:59 Initiative vs. Guilt
  • 4:12 Industry vs. Inferiority
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we'll discuss the stages children go through to develop their identity and self-concept. Depending on their developmental level, children may be at different stages of ability to articulate who they are. This lesson will emphasize early childhood stages of self-concept.

Finding Oneself

Erik runs a daycare program for children from birth to middle school. Because he is exposed to children of such diverse ages, it helps for him to understand the developmental stages of a child's development of self-concept. Self-concept can be described as the development of individual identity and how children see themselves as separate from others with unique personality traits. Erik is in the interesting position of seeing these stages as children move through them. He relies on the theories of his namesake Erik Erikson to put these stages into perspective. He also knows that these are general guidelines and not rigid rules. The ages are meant to be general so that movement from one stage to the next is individualized and largely dependent on each child's own development.

Let's take a look at Erikson's stages of psychosocial development as it pertains to identity development and the concept of self.

Trust vs. Mistrust

Infants and babies up to 1 year are just beginning to develop personalities and are heavily dependent on their parents for everything. Their self-concept is determined by how well they can trust that their needs are met. Besides the basic survival needs of food, shelter, clothing, etc., babies at this stage also need love, play, and even physical touch to ensure healthy development. Some research shows that babies can even die when deprived of touch at this stage, so hospitals have been recruiting volunteer cuddlers for babies who do not have parents or to help mothers with addiction or postpartum depression.

Feelings of mistrust that develop in babies who do not have their needs met can result in issues with attachment later on. This can result in an inability to develop lasting relationships, mental health issues, and possible behavioral problems. Some of the babies in the daycare rely on Erik and his staff to meet these needs. He has made targeted efforts to help new parents understand how to meet their babies' needs.

Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt

Toddlers--children from age 1 to 3 years--begin to gain autonomy over some basic functions like movement, eating, and toileting. This creates the beginning of independence that can be exciting and unnerving for the daycare staff. The excitement of learning to crawl around and walk is mitigated by the constant need for supervision. Erik and his staff are there to support parents and guardians in their potty training and walking practice. They also help these toddlers learn healthy eating habits and try new foods.

Because toddlers can be precarious, they begin to learn to explore. Having secure attachments to trusted adults can mitigate their fear and doubt. By helping toddlers make safe choices, they can exert their will safely and in a secure, supportive environment. With learning to go to the bathroom, they may begin to see the differences between their anatomy and become curious about those differences. At this stage, it's important to avoid reinforcing feelings of shame that may come with these discoveries.

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