The sense of self, or the sense of personal identity, begins to develop from birth and continues throughout life, a theory that began in the early 20th century with psychologist Erik Erikson. Parents and teachers can encourage infants and toddlers to develop a sense of self through simple, everyday activities that lay the foundation for future development.
A Sense of Self in Infancy
Infants learn quickly via interactions with people and their environment. Even at this early stage, they are developing a sense of self. Within the first few months of life, newborns will begin to show their unique personalities. Their likes and dislikes begin to develop and the infant begins to respond to people, sounds and materials. Parents and caregivers can encourage the development of sense of self simply by responding to the infant and providing him with a loving, secure environment. At this stage, activities are as simple as smiling when the infant smiles. As the infant grows older and can communicate more clearly through gestures, the parent or caregiver can continue these response activities by responding to requests the infant has communicated.
Exploring Develops a Sense of Self
As the infant enters the toddler stage, exploration becomes an important activity for developing sense of self. Parents and teachers should encourage the toddler to explore and investigate independently. Although toddlers still need the security of having the parent or teacher near, the new-found independence also requires the adult to set reasonable boundaries. Activities to encourage exploration could include simple outings or play dates where the toddler is given the opportunity to explore a new place, or playing games where the toddler looks for a specific object in the room.
Toddlerhood Brings New Ways of Expression
Toddlers are also beginning to express themselves verbally and through imaginary play. The unique personality of the child will guide the activities best suited to the individual child, but adults can encourage the toddler to express herself and further develop her unique sense of self. Providing toys that encourage imaginary play is recommended by organizations such as the Alliance for Childhood. The toddler may enjoy playing house, imitating her parents, or she may prefer to pretend to be a doctor or a teacher. Whatever the preference, the parent or caregiver is sure to be involved in the play and encourages this play and imagination through playing along. Verbal expression can be encouraged through talking, reading books and talking with the toddler about the book, or singing songs.