Growing A Self

I have a great story for you, from my friend Bonnie.

A young child in her family has been learning toilet control. She wanted to wear her big girl panties for a recent restaurant visit.
Her mom reminded her that would mean she had to tell her when she needed to use the bathroom.

Just as the family was ordering, Allie announced she had to use the bathroom. There was the frantic dash, during which Allie held on. As she sat on the toilet, she looked up at her mom and said, “I got older.”

We see our children growing, developing new skills and abilities. Grandparents and others who don’t see them on a daily basis are often surprised by the leaps and bounds they take. But this is a great example of a child herself recognizing her changed capacity.

We don’t think of young children as being very self-conscious or self-aware. We know it of teenagers, spending hours and hours with journals, staring into mirrors, talking just to hear themselves talk. But this example shows us that Allie was able to think about herself and what she knew how to do, and to assess herself as older because of her newly demonstrated ability.

Self-concept comes from many sources. Earliest self-concept comes almost as a mirror reflection, regarding oneself through the eyes of those who surround us. Thus, for a young child, when her parents convey to her their love, caring and approval of her and her actions, she internalizes the view that she is a person capable of inspiring love and appreciation.

As Dorothy Briggs put it in the classic Your Childs Self-Esteem, the child comes to believe I am lovable and capable.

Of course, the opposite effect on self-esteem is noted when important adults convey the reverse message. Young children don’t evaluate the rightness or wrongness of the messages given them; they simply absorb them.

Later, as children move into other worlds, they receive feedback from other adults and peers. They tend to accept the messages that agree with the self-concept they have already formed, and ignore the feedback that is inconsistent with their self-image.

Thus an extremely negative teacher is often not so destructive to a child who already has a positive self-concept, but can be demoralizing to a child whose self-concept already was quite negative.

But Allie reminds us that young children are also active participants in creating their own self-imag

© Growing Child 2014.

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