I’m back! 🙂 And over the next few weeks, I’ll fill you in on some of the changes in my life and work. To kick things off, though, I want to share a most memorable story for this Memorial Day–and kick off a new series of articles. Developmental Milestones will share stories and examples from the “real world” of how children grow. It will put some concrete flesh on the theoretical bones of developmentalists like Piaget, Erikson, Elkind, and others.

Let’s start off with a photo. It’s not mine to embed so click here to take a look. Yes, that’s a five year old boy, patting the President of the United States head. Yes, he asked to pat it, to touch the President’s hair. Why? To see if it was like his own.

What’s going on here developmentally? During ages 1-3, children begin to develop a sense of being separate from the people around them. During ages 3-6, they begin to develop an identity. They aren’t just a separate entity, a different “thing” from you or me; they are a separate being with a unique identity. Of course, a 3 year old doesn’t verbalize or even think about this but all the things that make us human are driving him or her to explore identity.

What makes me “me” and not you? (And yes, if this sounds familiar, you are right. This exploration gets re-visited in adolescence; some actually call the teenage years “the second adolescence.” :-)) At this age the exploration is on very basic levels–Am I a boy or a girl? How do I know that? Am I strong, smart, shorter, taller, brown like you or white like her? Can I be a knight, a princess, a fire fighter, a doctor, a chef, a mother, a father?

Do you see where this is leading? Can I be President?

“Who am I?” Jacob is asking. Am I like him? His skin color is like mine; is his hair like mine?  Can I have fuzzy hair and be President? Can I be black with fuzzy hair and be President?

What do children see? Who do we allow them to see?

Don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing didactic here. We don’t have to “teach” or knock them over the head with a two by four about prejudice or gender issues. But we do have to be aware of how much they are learning. It is important that all children see that a black person can be President or that a woman can be a doctor or that a dad can change diapers. It is important that they see their faces in books (including on the covers) and movies and computer games.

No matter what strides we make as a society in overcoming prejudice and racism, we will always have to remember that children ages 3-5 will be exploring identity. We need to give them opportunities to explore all the possibilities.

Questions? Comments? Just click below the headline. Want to read more? Click here for “Obama and the Snowy Day.”

Have fun!

Babette

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