It sure seems like a baby’s love affair with their reflection starts right away, doesn’t it? From early in the first year, most babies smile, babble, and laugh at their chubby little faces reflected back at them. In fact, it’s one of their favorite activities – so much so that the car seat mirror has become a must-have.
But in fact, it’s not until about 18 months that most babies really recognize that it is their own bodies they see in the mirror. Until then, drooling, dancing, and pressing their heads into the glass is more like a social activity – they enjoy the company of that other little person looking back at them, but haven’t connected it to themselves. Before the toddler years, the mirror probably gets such a good laugh because babies love faces, and one of their favorite pastimes is staring at our features.
A baby begins to develop self-awareness
Sometime between 15 and 24 months, children take a large step in self-awareness. In an experiment known as the “rouge test,” mothers wiped a bit of rouge on the noses of their children and placed them in front of a mirror.
Before 15 months, children look at the reflection and see a red spot on the nose in the mirror, but they don’t realize that the red spot is on their own nose. When children are between 15 and 24 months, they begin to realize that the reflection they see is their own, and they either point to the red nose or try to wipe away the rouge.
In other words, they understand that the reflection in the mirror is more than a familiar face–it is their own face. At this time, children are learning that they are different from other people and becoming more aware that others may have beliefs, desires, and feelings that differ from their own. Research has shown that once young children reach this level of self-awareness, new emotions like embarrassment, envy, and empathy emerge.
It surprises most parents to learn that mirror recognition takes so long to develop, but it actually involves a very advanced set of cognitive skills. Becoming self-aware goes hand-in-hand with consciousness (one of our most sophisticated and, arguably, uniquely human qualities). In order to really wrap their heads around the concept, babies need to know that they are separate physical beings, with their own thoughts and feelings.
Do you think your toddler has figured out that she is seeing her own reflection? Go ahead, try it at home! Don’t forget to follow A Matter Of Style on Instagram for more great decorating ideas for kids and babies and take a look at our new selection of kids and baby mirrors to help your baby’s development.