he growth of self-consciousness in the child between three and seven is one of the most interesting and important features in his development. We often hear people comment on it, saying, Oh, he isnt a baby any longer; hes a man now, or, Hes getting so strong-willed, or, Shes getting so contrary. All such remarks express profound truths.
The childs self-consciousness, his know-ledge of himself as a personality, the development of his character, is the result of all that he is himself and all the influences that play upon him. One of the most important of these latter is the conflict between him and his parents, and botween him and his school. There is bound to be conflict; if children did naturally everything that was good for them, always wanted the right things and never the wrong, there would be little need for training, as we understand it.
It is the parents responsibility to see that this conflict is as free from strain as possible. Overbearingness and harshness on the part of the parents make a timid, nervous child; sarcasm and physical chastisement can rob him of courage and openness; feebleness and vacillation make him tyrannous and overbearing himself; complaisance makes him conceited; too much freedom gives him an idea of life in which no rules exist, an idea which may cause him untold trouble at school or even later in life.
Self-consciousness is developed by play-mates. The more friends a child can have, up to a point, the better. Hero, too, there is conflict, but it is more or less the conflict of equals; children rub the awkward corners off each other. The child learns in play to adjust himself to all sorts of situations; he realizes more and more himself and the place he takes among his fellows.
The power adults possess of influencing children by suggestion is so great as to be almost terrifying. During these years in particular the child is influenced by almost any suggestion, and You are a brave boy, or Never mind, poor little darling can have immediate and obvious effects.
Children can be made greedy, vain, selfish, cruel, lazy, timid, or, on the other hand, restrained, unselfish, kindly, courteous, industrious, courageous, by suggestion. And not only by the direct suggestion of words, but perhaps more so by the indirect suggestion of actions and habits. A child may be repeatedly told not to be greedy, but if he sees his parents habitually overfeed at meals, it will be their actions and not their words he will imitate.
Self-consciousness is further developed by the make-believe games of early childhood in which an adult is impersonated, by those in which an adult occupation is admired or imitated (e.g. the boy wishing to be an engine driver), and by the imaginary playmates whom many children invent and with whom they will play for hours.