That is, until an infant realizes that she is looking at herself in the mirror rather than another baby, the concept of self cannot begin to form (Johnston, 1996). As children mature, the link between cognition and self-concept becomes more illuminated. In older children, part of the maturation process is the ability to solve problems and process information (Siegler and Alibali, 2004). The fact that children use a variety of strategies and behave differently when overcoming obstacles to reach a common goal reflects differences not only in their cognitive abilities but also how they see themselves -- "I don't give up easily; I always try my best; I learn well; I don't like myself," etc. (Measelle et al., 2005).
If, as earlier suggested, by five to seven years of age, children are able to give accurate self-descriptions of themselves, then the precursors of self-concept clearly evolve around the toddler and pre-school years. If this is so, then the child's immediate environment and primary caregivers have an important role in the development of self. While it is generally accepted that a child's temperament -- presumably the baseline where self-concept builds upon -- is largely inherent, there are some empirical evidence to suggest that temperament and toddler self-control can be moderated by mother-child relationship quality.
In particular, it is hypothesized that "mother-infant synchrony is an antecedent of the emergence of self-control" (Feldman, Greenbaum, and Yirmiya, 1999). Longitudinal studies show that the experience of mutual synchrony during the first year is important in helping infants with difficult temperaments achieve self-control at two years (Feldman, Greenbaum, and Yirmiya, 1999). The experience of mutual synchrony is characterized by the ability of a mother to match a response to her child's mood change; share control over interaction with her child; and maintain visual contact during face-to-face interactions (Feldman, Greenbaum, and Yirmiya, 1999). Self-control marks the first expression of internalised socialization and is manifested by a child's obedience to parents' instructions and ability to wait when asked (Emde et al., 1991 in Feldman, Greenbaum, and Yirmiya, 1999). As such, it can be said that parents, especially mothers, are important agents of socialization.
Social behavior is but one of many dimensions that can be used to evaluate self-view among children. Dimensions may be positive like achievement and well-being or negative like aggression and alienation (Bird and Reese, 2006). When a child says about herself, "I am happiest when I am close to people," it indicates social closeness, while if she says, "People always say mean things to me," it may suggest alienation (Bird and Reese, 2006). For children to be able to view themselves as such, they must have connected that self-view to a concrete past event/events in their lives (Bird and Reese, 2006). In other words, a personal life history is believed to form the basis of a subjective self (Bird and Reese, 2006).
Children form an autobiographical self through an understanding of their personal experiences. In this, parents can again play an integral role by engaging their children in past event conversations and helping them understand the personal meaning of a particular experience (Bird and Reese, 2006). Trivial as that may seem, research suggests that parents who regularly discuss past events in an elaborate, as opposed to a redundant, manner are able to draw from their children important aspects of their self-view. It is hypothesized that events that children choose to discuss provide information about their preferences, interests, abilities, and values; in essence, their self-view (Bird and Reese, 2006). Further, event conversations where parents explain and resolve negative emotions in their children or evaluate positive outcomes are also likely to produce consistent self-views in children (Bird and Reese, 2006).
Finally, it is important to consider the influence of culture in the development of self. So far in this paper, references to self-view dimensions and norms are predominantly Western in context. For instance, putting value on one's thoughts and preferences, discussing negative emotions, engaging children in conversations, discovering unique attributes, and the like all have Western upbringing tones. In other cultures, these norms may not be norms at all and hence the psychometric procedures used to generate traditionally Western self-description may not apply, say among Chinese or Asian children (Wang, 2004). The Chinese, as opposed to the autonomy-oriented European-Americans, are interdependent and put value in kinship such that a person's identity is often tied to his social responsibilities. Social rules exist in the Chinese culture that promotes humility and self-criticism for the sake of social harmony (Chin, 1988, in Wang, 2004). This, of course, is in contrast to Western culture that promotes self-enhancement.
A recent study on the comparative autobiographical memories and self-description in 3- to 8-year-old American and Chinese children considered the following differences and used a relatively novel, open-ended narrative method to examine the development of self-constructs. The results of the study are consistent with the cultural outlines above. American children tend to describe themselves in terms of their personal attributes and inner disposition in a generally light tone. Chinese children, on the other hand, focused on specific relationships, social roles, observable behavior, and situation bound features in a modest tone (Wang, 2004). The implication of this study is that self-concept is culture-specific and that the early emergence…