Self-confidence and self-awareness in early childhood – what is it and how can families support this development?

Personal, social and emotional development is one of the prime areas of child development on the early years foundation stage curriculum. It is an important aspect of development in young children and underpins all seven areas of learning. 

The development of personal, social and emotional skills is essential in growing the confidence of young children both in their home and educational setting.

Without nurturing the personal, social and emotional development (PSED) of young children, it would be difficult to grow pretty much any of the other areas of learning successfully. Strength in this developmental area enables children to make their first friendships, manage their emotions and also become resilient, self-confident little learners.

Personal, social and emotional development in children is something that can be nurtured from birth. An integral aspect of this area of learning is self-confidence and self-awareness. In children who are just a few months old, they may share their pleasure by laughing and gurgling. This can be nurtured further by adults by singing songs and rhymes, using gestures and even sharing eye contact and big smiles.

Parent playing with a baby-1


Older babies will begin to show more of a sense of self, they will generally start to use pointing gestures and eye contact to share interests and their excitement during play. A great way to support the development of this is to provide opportunities for choices during play and snack times. For example, holding up two options to play with such as “teddy or ball?” and then continuing to verbalise this choice by saying something like “you have chosen teddy”. This can be extended to food and drinks, such as “water or milk?”. Using objects to support this, especially with younger children is key as it provides a visual, and context to your words, and can support their understanding of the question.


Child looking in a mirror


Mirrors are also a great tool to use with children of this age. Children can use mirrors to explore their own reflection as they learn about their own features, such as their nose and eyes. You can even use mirrors together with your child to point out features, and sing songs and rhymes together such as “head, shoulders knees and toes” so that they can visualise this better. Mirrors are also fantastic for sharing and discussing facial expressions, for instance demonstrating sad faces, happy faces and angry faces together. This can even be made into little games, for example asking your child to show a happy face or a funny face, or even pulling expressions yourself and asking your child how they think you are feeling, such as “am I happy or sad?”.


Child playing with dinosaurs-1


Toddlers are typically at the stage where they have developed their own set of interests and will be confident to express this to adults and their peers. It is important to speak to your child about their interests and to engage in them. Engaging in their interests is not only a way to nurture their self-confidence and self-awareness, but it can also support learning and development in other areas. For instance, if your child has shared that they like dinosaurs, this interest can be adapted to support learning. You could support your child to find books about dinosaurs to foster an interest in reading, and even use dinosaur toys to play together in role-play activities. You could even use dinosaurs dressing up costumes and explore acting like, and moving like dinosaurs to support their creative and physical skills, as well as communication and language development.


Child helping with cooking


Older children will continue developing and sharing their interests. Their interests may even change on a weekly, or daily basis as they learn more about the world around them, and take notice of changes in their environment. Children of this age will often begin to develop more of a sense of responsibility. They may want help with household tasks, such as washing up or helping to prepare food. This should be actively encouraged, and tasks like this should be made accessible where possible. An example of this could be sitting together at a child-height table to cut up fruit or vegetables together to prepare snacks and meals. Some things will be easier for children to prepare, for instance, softer fruit like bananas that can be held securely with small hands and be cut with a child-safe knife. Some children may want to help prepare breakfast and could certainly help butter their own toast or pour their own milk into their cereal using a small bottle or jug – they may need some support in doing this, or support in understanding how to cope when things don’t quite go right to build resilience – for example, helping them to clean up spills from when they don’t quite manage to get milk into the bowl.

This development will continue as children reach school age. At school age, a lot of children will be confident to try new ideas and activities, and this confidence should be celebrated with them. Children will still look to their parents and other familiar adults to share their achievements with. It is also important to consider how language is used to celebrate achievements with children at this age, for instance, “wow, I can see that you have been working hard on your counting” could be more effective than “you are so clever” as the former celebrates their hard work over their natural abilities, and will continue to encourage them to keep on trying at new things, and concepts that they may find difficult.

In all, supporting children in this area of development in early childhood will enable them to start school as more confident and resilient learners, and continue this throughout life.