Identity Development in Early Childhood

Gender Identity

Gender identity passes through a developmental period between the ages of 2-5, during which the child experiences and explores his first awareness experiences. The first curiosity questions about the gender gap start to come to parents in this age range. The first efforts to make sense of the gender issue and the first gender-specific behaviors also show their existence in this range. For example; Gender discrimination behaviors, which can manifest as the choice of same-sex friends, begin at the age of 2 for girls and at the age of 3 for boys. Or the differences in the choice of toys also show themselves at these ages. Generally, while boys engage in more rough and forceful games, girls can show more sharing and nurturing play behaviors. Of course, it should not be forgotten that the influence of the environment in which the child is in a large extent. And it is worth noting that each child can choose toys according to their interest and curiosity, rather than gender-specific patterns. Child development researchers also explain these differences in various approaches. These can be listed as social learning theory, role models, reinforcements, Piaget’s theory of development and culture.

Social Learning Approach:

According to this understanding, children learn by observing and imitating other individuals. Seeing that behaving in a certain way is rewarded and behaving in a certain way is not rewarded or punished gives the child clues about what behavior to exhibit. Children between the ages of two and five learn “how” to behave not only from their parents, but also from siblings, peers, other adults, television, exposure to media and books. For example, children with same-sex older sister or older brother are more stereotyped in their gender-specific behaviors than children with opposite-sex older sisters or brothers.

According to the “constructivist” approach based on Piaget’s developmental stages, children also set up mental schemas to process information about gender. Thanks to these “gender schemes”, they classify the behaviors or objects they observe as “boy things” or “girl things”. In this way, gender perceptions develop. They perceive their own gender identity within the framework of this classification.

Culture itself guides and shapes the child’s perspective on the distribution of gender roles, and what behaviors and expressions can be expected from which gender. As a matter of fact, media contents, videos and advertisements that have become a part of the culture we live in also occupy a very important area in shaping children’s gender-specific role expectations.

Ethnic Identity

Child development researchers refer to the process of giving and preparing children with messages about their ethnicity as “ethnic socialization”. There are two types of socialization related to the development of ethnic identity: “cultural socialization” and “preparation for prejudice” In cultural socialization, ethnic heritage and pride are transferred to the child. In preparation for prejudice, the child is provided with narratives about the prejudices that he or she may encounter and is prepared to deal with these prejudices. Studies have found that the sense of belonging to an ethnic identity and the rich cultural environment positively affect the cognitive development of the child.

Personal Identity

At an average age of four, children can narrate and narrate their own experiences. This personal storytelling skill, called “autobiographical memory,” develops over time. The ability to develop one’s own experience is a process that is acquired over time and in which the help of parents-an adult is very decisive. For example, children under the age of four listen to their parents by asking questions about what they went through and what happened that day. This is how they learn and internalize initial narratives of their own experiences. In these storytelling experiences, the child’s actions, feelings and approaches are discussed. Sometimes these stories are sprinkled with life lessons and advice. This process is largely shaped between parents and children.

At this stage of development, the child does not define a subjective identity for himself. When you ask the child to describe himself, he will come to you with definitions such as “black eyes” and “long hair”. Definitions such as “I am smart” or “I am naughty” will come later. Such subjective descriptions continue to develop largely through the stories created between the parent, the immediate environment, and the child about the child’s experiences.

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