During the first year of life, baby is not aware of himself. The world around him is so stimulating that he pays little attention to himself. During the second year of life, this gradually changes as the child becomes aware of his own identity.
Small babies have no sense of their bodies as their own. They do not know where they begin and where they end. Even when, at two months, we see them watching their hands, fascinated by them, they do not know that they are theirs, that they are part of their body. They lose interest as soon as they leave the field of vision. They often think that toys are a continuation of themselves and find it strange when they cannot pick them up, for example.
Awareness of oneself as a being separate from the rest of the world emerges between 9 and 15 months of age, but it is only in the period between 15 and 18 months that the notion of what they are like physically is grounded. The “I” and “my” emerge and in the future the feelings of shame, guilt, jealousy, and affection.
When does the baby become aware of himself?
The smallest babies are not yet aware of themselves. When they are placed in front of a mirror they react to the mirror like any other toy. At this stage, they do not yet realise that they are seeing the reflection of their own image.
The image projected in the mirror is particularly stimulating for the baby as it moves whenever he moves. However, he is not yet aware that the changes he sees reflected in the mirror are caused by himself.
Curiously, this reaction is identical to that of a fish or a bird. If you put a mirror in front of it, the animal will probably attack the image since it does not recognise itself in the projected image. But for humans, this perception is transient.
At around 15 months, baby’s perception of himself gradually begins to change. When placed in front of a mirror, he begins to perceive that if he does a certain action (such as raising an arm or grimacing), the “other person” does exactly the same.
As the child does other actions and the result is the same (the image reflected in the mirror behaves exactly the same way), he gradually begins to realise that he is seeing himself and not someone else. The baby begins to recognise his own face in the mirror and becomes aware of himself.
The mirror test
To find out if your baby can recognise their own image, place them in front of a mirror where they can clearly see their own face. Then, put a hat on his head and repeat the test.
If you raise your hand to remove the hat, your child already knows that the reflection belongs to you. If he tries to take the hat off in the figure projected in the mirror, he still needs some more time to become self-aware.
- About half of the children given this test at 18 months do not pass the test;
- By 2 years, about ¾ of children pass the test;
- During 3 third year, about 25% of children will also pass the test.
The “terrible 2 years” and the affirmation of the “I”
Between 18 months and 4 years, a child may go through a phase known as “the terrible 2 years”. At this age, having discovered that he is a complete being and that he is a separate entity, the child tends to focus on himself and often becomes more stubborn. He wants to do things his own way and gets angry when this doesn’t happen.
For parents, this tends to be a phase of a struggle of wills. They often need to adopt new strategies to cope with their child’s behaviour at this “eccentric” stage. A child’s frustration can make him agitated and irritable and give rise to the terrible tantrums so characteristic of this age.
Despite the setbacks and occasional embarrassing situations in public, this phase is more fun than irritating. Think that your child is growing up and just going through another stage of child development where self-discovery and self-awareness represent the beginning of a wonderful journey towards independence and the formation of a unique personality.