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Foundation: Identity of Self in Relation to Others

California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations.
Important Notice: Programs Moved to CDSS

While the California Department of Education continues to operate the California State Preschool Program, the Early Childhood Development Act of 2020 (Senate Bill (SB) 98, Chapter 24, Statutes of 2020) authorized the transfer of many childcare programs from the California Department of Education to the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) effective July 1, 2021. The content on this page may include programs that have moved to CDSS. For additional assistance you can either visit the CDSS Child Care Transition web page External link opens in new window or tab. or call 1-833-559-2420 for more information.

The developing concept that the child is an individual operating within social relationships
8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, children show clear awareness of being a separate person and of being connected with other people. Children identify others as both distinct from and connected to themselves. (Fogel 2001, 347)

At around 18 months of age, children demonstrate awareness of their characteristics and express themselves as distinct persons with thoughts and feelings. Children also demonstrate expectations of others’ behaviors, responses, and characteristics on the basis of previous experiences with them.

At around 36 months of age, children identify their feelings, needs, and interests, and identify themselves and others as members of one or more groups by referring to categories. (24–36 mos.; Fogel 2001, 415; 18–30 mos.)

For example, the child may:

  • Respond to someone who calls her name. (5–7 mos.; Parks 2004, 94; 9 mo.; Coplan 1993, 2)

  • Turn toward a familiar person upon hearing his name. (6–8 mos.; Parks 2004, 94; 8 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 18)

  • Look at an unfamiliar adult with interest but show wariness or become anxious when that adult comes too close. (5–8 mos.; Parks 2004; Johnstone and Scherer 2000, 222)

  • Wave arms and kick legs when a parent enters the room.

  • Cry when the favorite infant care teacher leaves the room. (6–10 mos.; Parks 2004)

For example, the child may:

  • Point to or indicate parts of the body when asked. (15–19 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Express thoughts and feelings by saying “no!” (18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003)

  • Move excitedly when approached by an infant care teacher who usually engages in active play.

For example, the child may:

  • Use pronouns such as I, me, you, we, he, and she. (By 36mo.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, p. 307)

  • Say own name. (30–33 mos.; Parks 2004, 115)

  • Begin to make comparisons between self and others; for example, communicate, “_____ is a boy/girl like me.”

  • Name people in the family.

  • Point to pictures of friends and say their names.

  • Communicate, “Do it myself!” when the infant care teacher tries to help.

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (4 to 7 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Use hands to explore different parts of the body. (4mos.; Kravitz, Goldenberg, and Neyhus 1978)

  • Examine her own hands and a parent’s hands. (Scaled score of 9 for 4:06–4:15 mos.;* Bayley 2006, 53)

  • Watch or listen for the infant care teacher to come to meet the child’s needs. (Birth–8 mos.; Lerner and Dombro 2000, 42)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (9 to 17 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Play games such as peek-a-boo or run-and-chase with the infant care teacher. (Stern 1985, 102; 7–11 mos.; Frankenburg and others 1990)

  • Recognize familiar people, such as a neighbor or infant care teacher from another room, in addition to immediate family members. (12–18 mo.; Parks 2004)

  • Use names to refer to significant people; for example, “Mama” to refer to the mother and “Papa” to refer to the father. (11–14 mos.; Parks 2004, 109)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (19 to 35 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Recognize his own image in the mirror and understand that it is himself. (Siegel 1999, 35; Lewis and Brooks-Gunn 1979, 56)

  • Know the names of familiar people, such as a neighbor. (by end of second year; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 270)

  • Show understanding of or use words such as you, me, mine, he, she, it, and I. (20–24 mos.; Parks 2004, 96; 20 mos.; Bayley 2006; 18–24 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003; 19 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 61; 24–20 mos.; Parks 2004, 113)

  • Use name or other family label (e.g., nickname, birth order, “little sister”) when referring to self. (18–24 mo.; Parks 2004; 24 mo.; Lewis and Brooks-Gunn 1979)

  • Claim everything as “mine.” (24 mos.; Levine 1983)

  • Point to or indicate self in a photograph. (24 mos.; Lewis and Brooks-Gunn 1979)

  • Proudly show the infant care teacher a new possession. (24–30 mos.; Parks 2004)

*Four months, six days, to four months, 15 days.

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Questions:   Early Education and Support Division | | 916-322-6233
Last Reviewed: Thursday, June 17, 2021