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Self-concept, or identity in Children

One of the most important aspects of a child"s emotional development is the formation of his self-concept, or -identitynamely, his sense of who he is and what his relation to other people is. The most conspicuous trend in children"s growing self-awareness is a shift from concrete physical attributes to more abstract characteristics. This shift is apparent in those characteristics children emphasize when asked to describe themselves.

Young children-four to six years of age-seem to define themselves in terms of such observable characteristics as hair colour, height, or their favorite activities. But within a few years, their descriptions of themselves shift to more abstract, internal, or psychological qualities, including their competences and skills relative to those of others. Thus, as children approach adolescence, they tend to increasingly define themselves by the unique and individual quality of their feelings, thoughts, and beliefs rather than simply by external characteristics.

One of the earliest and most basic categories of self to emerge during childhood is based on gender and is called sex-role identity. Children develop a rudimentary gender identity by age three, having learned to classify themselves and others as either males or females. They also come to prefer the activities and roles traditionally assigned to their own sex; as early as two years of age, most children select toys and activities that fit the sex-role stereotypes of their culture, and during the preschool years they begin to select same-sex playmates

Another component of a child"s self-concept concerns the racial, ethnic, or religious group of which he is a part. A child who is a member of a distinctive or specific group has usually created a mental category for that group by five to six years, and children from ethnic minorities tend to be more aware of ethnic differences than are no minority children.

One of the important processes that mediate a child"s self-concept is that of identification; this involves the child"s incorporation of the characteristics of parents or other persons by adopting their appearance, attitudes, and behaviour. Children tend to identify with those persons to whom they are emotionally attached and whom they perceive to be similar to themselves in some way.

They seem to identify most strongly with parents who are emotionally warm or who are dominant and powerful. The role models children adopt may have negative as well as positive characteristics, however, and can thus influence children in undesirable as well as beneficial ways. More than 80 percent of American children have one or more sisters or brothers, and the presence of these siblings can influence a child"s personality development.

Parents tend to be more involved and attentive toward the firstborn, stimulating him more (in the absence of other children) but then expecting and demanding more from him (as their oldest child). Because of this, firstborns tend to identify more closely with their parents, conform more closely to their values and expectations, and generally identify more closely with authority than do their younger siblings.
Firstborns tend to be more strongly motivated toward school achievement, are more conscientious, more prone to guilt feelings, and less aggressive than those born later. A high proportion of eminent scientists and scholars have been firstborns, perhaps owing to the aforementioned traits, but firstborns also tend to be less receptive to ideas that challenge a popular ideological or theoretical position.

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