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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

That’s Me! Building Self-Awareness in Toddlers

A major development that occurs during toddlerhood is increased self-awareness and awareness of other people. Toddlers become aware that their own behaviors and intentions are different from others. Self-awareness is related to cognitive advancements such as mental representational capacity and can be seen in their reaction to their own reflection in a mirror as well as their use of the word “I.”

As discussed in prior blog postings, infants experience primary emotions such as anger, fear and joy. In toddlerhood, children can endure higher levels of emotional arousal and begin to feel emotions such as embarrassment, shame (i.e., feels exposed, vulnerable or bad), and positive self-evaluation (a precursor to pride). These emotions are secondary emotions and require a sense of self.

The “rouge” test is one that parents can do at home to test their child’s sense of self-awareness. This tests self-recognition to indicate whether or not a child recognizes his or her reflection in a mirror. By 18 months of age, 50% of children can recognize themselves in the mirror and by 24 months of age, 65% of children have this ability. A red dot of rouge or lipstick is placed somewhere on the child’s face, typically the nose. If a child attempts to touch her nose to wipe off the red dot while looking in the mirror, self-recognition is indicated.

Before 18 months of age, children typically don’t recognize themselves in the mirror. They stare at their reflections and may recognize the image as a sibling or someone else familiar to them. They do not react to the red dots on their faces. By 24 months of age, most children will touch or wipe their noses, reaching a new level of self-awareness. The connection between self-awareness and embarrassment is also apparent with the rouge test. While the red dot is still on their faces, if overly complimented or pointed at by others, many children will act embarrassed by acting bashful. Just being the object of others’ attention will induce embarrassment in a toddler.

There are some tips that parents can follow with their toddlers while assisting them with the development of these new emotions. First, recognize and praise these new emotions as they become apparent. Second, as your child experiences varying levels of these emotions, help your child by naming the emotions and teaching appropriate ways of coping with them. Third, enjoy this time with your child by sharing new experiences and new emotions. It is a great opportunity for you to form a closer bond with your child.

For a YouTube video demonstration of the Rouge Test, please visit:

1 comment:

  1. For the past two months, possibly more, my son who is now 17-months and 3-weeks looks at a photo of himself or his image in the mirror and says, "me". Is this typical behavior for a child younger than two years old? Neither I nor his father ever taught him to say "me" while looking in the mirror. One day he just looked at a photo and said, "me". We ignored it because we were in shock and just thought it was a fluke.