As they gain more physical strength, preschoolers become especially interested in trying to move their bodies in new ways. In an article for ZERO TO THREE, Kathy Reschke, PhD, Senior Content Specialist and author of ZERO TO THREE’s Critical Competencies for Infant-Toddler Educators™, adds, “The first 3 years of a child’s life are packed with learning and mastering new physical abilities. Young children seem to get a great deal of satisfaction practicing their new abilities for the pure enjoyment of it….These physical attributes and abilities make up a large portion of young children’s perception of themselves. Even older preschoolers, when asked to talk about themselves, focus almost exclusively on what they look like, what they like to play with, and what they physically can do.”
Quick Tip for Supporting Preschoolers’ Development: We can support children in their growing sense of ambition by offering encouragement when they try something they have never done before, such as climbing extra high on a play structure or riding a bike for the first time.
Identity Formation and Self-Esteem
As educators and caregivers, we can have a profound effect on the children in our care by showing an interest in their expressions of individuality. Offer children encouragement when they take on new challenges, and celebrate with them when they accomplish something new. Our response to each child’s unique and emerging identity helps build that child’s developing self-esteem.
In a ZERO TO THREE video on infant-toddler educator competencies, Ross Thompson, PhD, professor of psychology at UC Davis and director of the Social & Emotional Development Lab, observes, “We know that young children are developing a sense of themselves as it is reflected in how they are relating to people who matter to them…And this begins very early. It begins in how a parent or care provider applauds their accomplishments and contributes to a sense of pride…So how parents and caregivers are communicating their own sense of a child to the child themselves, and how that is being incorporated into their own self-esteem is really important.”