Self-awareness and its relation to memory and learning in children

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When you think back to being a child, it’s hard to remember much before your 3rd birthday. This is because we find it hard to store memories that aren’t related to our sense of self, also known as childhood amnesia. Once our sense of self has been established, we’re more likely to be able to recall memories and information – this is known as self-reference reflect.

Self-reference reflect can be used to help children process and learn information, especially during the early years of their life. You can encourage this style of learning by getting children to learn spellings with sentences that begin with ‘I’ and maths questions that are written in the first person, i.e. ‘I have 3 apples and Peter eats 2, so how many do I have left now’ ; allowing them to directly relate to the information.

When does self-awareness develop?

Children as young as two begin to develop their sense of self through recognising themselves in a mirror or photograph. You can test this theory by putting a small but distinguishable mark on their forehead, if they have developed self-awareness then when they look in the mirror they will instantly reach up to their head to touch the mark: recognising their own reflection.

At the same age, a child will begin displaying self-awareness through the use of language such as ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’, to claim things as theirs. They’ll also show signs of self-conscious emotions by showing when they’re embarrassed, proud or feeling guilty.

How can this have an effect on their lives?

As children begin to understand their personalities more, their self-worth begins to develop and this can have an effect on their social interactions and academic potential. When a child starts to think in the first person, they apply descriptions to themselves such as ‘I’m a good girl’ or ‘I’m clever’ and this is reflective of what their parents/family say around or to them. The idea is that if parents encourage children to think positively by building their self-esteem and helping them overcome negative events, then they’ll be more likely to have positive self-esteem later on in life.

Children begin to understand and express their selfhood as toddlers and it’s important that we work to encourage them to think positively and overcome negative experiences in order to shape them and their personalities in the best way possible.








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