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Children’s self-expression that begins with “Look!”

writer: HIROSE, Shohei(College of Comprehensive Psychology, Assistant) published: 2019-2

Children’s appeals for attention

The topic of my research is the characteristics of children’s communication and how they change in accordance with a child’s age. As part of this research I carry out observations while being in the midst of children’s activities in nursery schools and kindergartens. When interacting with the children, they often call out to me, “Teacher, look!” When I look at them, sometimes they are proudly showing off the shirt or shoes they are wearing. Other times they are showing me how they jump rope or spin around an iron bar. This kind of children’s self-expression that starts from “look!” is a very common, everyday occurrence. In this article I will discuss the potential of self-expression that starts from “look!” and the development of the self.

The development of self-consciousness

Roughly speaking, then, when does this “self” develop? There has been some interesting research on the development of the self-recognition that focuses on what is referred to as “mirror self- recognition test” (Amsterdam, 1972; Lewis & Brooks-Gunn, 1979). In these studies, a sticker or mark made with lipstick is applied to the tip of a child’s nose without their noticing. The child is then shown their own image in a mirror. Their behavior is then observed. In the case of an adult, they will usually move their hand to their nose if there is a sticker or lipstick there when they see themselves in the mirror. This is because when they see their image reflected in the mirror they recognize it as their own body. So what about children? The result of the experiment was that behaviors such as touching the mark on their nose were not seen in children around the age of one. In children between the ages of one and a half and two years old, however, the action of moving a hand to the nose was observed. This showed that children are able to understand their own body at around the age one and a half to two years old. In addition, other research has shown that the self-conscious emotions like “pride” and “shame” begin to be seen from the same age as the development of this kind of self-recognition to around the age of three (Lewis, Alessandri, & Sullivan, 1992).

Expressing oneself and connecting with others

As discussed above, self-consciousness develops from around the age of one and a half to two years old, and around this time children engage in a lot of self-assertion. This is related to the “terrible twos.” Children’s self-assertiveness then increases as they reach the ages of three and four (Kashiwagi, 1988). During this development, instances of self-expression beginning with “look!” increase. I will relate one example of this I observed that left a strong impression on me. A child arranged the lid of a crayon box perpendicular to the box full of crayons, and began tapping away on the latter with their fingers. They seemed to be pretending to use a laptop computer. After playing like this for a while they said “look!” to a friend beside them, and proceeded to show the friend the make-believe at which they had been playing. The friend imitated the first child’s computer make-believe, and while looking at each other’s faces they began to play together, laughing and smiling. I think this kind of self-expression that begins with “Look!” plays an important role in sharing what a child is feeling or doing with others and broadening their play and communication.


  • Amsterdam,B. (1972). Mirror self-image reactions before age two. Developmental Psychology, 5, 297-305.
  • Kashiwagi, K. (1988). Yōjiki niokeru “Jiko” no hattatsu: kōdō no jikoseigyokinō wo chūshinni [The development of “self” in early childhood: focusing on the behavioral self-regulation function]. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.
  • Lewis, M., Alessandri, S. M. & Sullivan, M. W. (1992). Differences in Shame and Pride as a Function of Children’s Gender and Task Difficulty. Child Development, 3, 630-638.
  • Lewis, M. & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1979). Social Cognition and the Acquisition of Self. New York: Plenum Press.



Ritsumeikan Journal of Human Sciences


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Institute of Ars Vivendi. Ritsumeikan Univ.