0 to 2: "Mine! Mine!"

by Carla Poole

"No!" "Mine!" "Me!" These cries represent the toddler's emerging sense of independence as she begins to feel confident walking and talking. Egocentrism, where the child views the world exclusively from her own perspective, helps her cope with her anxieties. It also encourages toddlers' explorations as they reach the milestones of toddlerhood, including walking and language.

How It Begins

The toddler who demonstrates this impressive self-determination begins life as a dependent newborn. During the first few months, a baby is the center of her universe, with loving adults eagerly trying to satisfy her every need. After 6 weeks or so, however, a baby offers social smiles to almost any friendly face. The baby's drive for social interaction is especially strong in terms of getting important needs met: "Hold me, feed me, burp me!" With responsive care from a few consistent, nurturing adults, she begins to associate positive feelings with particular people. Bonds are formed. Through the love of others, she begins to discover and love herself.

Embracing the World

By 6 months, a baby begins a love affair with the world. She explores her own body, trying to find out how it works. Eventually, she begins to investigate objects. A ten-minute exploration of a wooden spoon is not uncommon. When she learns to walk, a skill that makes her feel quite invincible, she is driven toward her unique interests. She becomes completely absorbed in her explorations-from the amazing tidbits on the floor to the electrical outlets.

The thriving 18-month-old feels omnipotent, curious about her world, and connected to the adults who care for her. Yet these very same adults begin to provide limits on her behavior, definitely cramping her style!

Setting Limits

Limits are essential. No matter how loud or long her vehement protests are, limits help a baby feel secure and keep her safe. The toddler's "No!" or temper tantrum needs a gentle but firm response, which will further the goal of building a loving partnership.

Building Relationships

Fortunately, these strong feelings of self-determination in toddlers are accompanied by an emerging concern for others and a growing desire to please those who care for them. While the 24-month-old will still grab a toy from another child, she might look for a trusted, familiar adult to stop her just before she makes her move. It is essential for the toddler to learn that the world does not end if she does not get what she wants. As the child's teacher, you act as a guide, helping the toddler maintain a positive sense of self while gradually adapting to social rules.

What You Can Do

  • Respond to each baby's needs without hesitation. After 9 months, when a baby is feeling secure within loving relationships, she can wait, a little bit, before requests are fulfilled.
  • Enjoy toddler antics. Take pleasure in their pleasure!
  • Acknowledge the toddler's strong feelings. Say, "I see you really want that" when you must set a limit.

3 to 4: "I Want It Now!"

by Susan A. Miller, Ed.D.

Three-year-old Zack arrives at school very upset. Before breakfast, in the closet at his house, Zack discovered a bag containing his birthday presents. Zack continues to cry and insist, "But I want to play with my toys." To no avail, his mom and teacher both try to explain to him that he can't have them now. They are special presents for his birthday.

How They See It

Preschoolers are apt to focus on themselves and their desires, or on one aspect of a problem. Their still egocentric view of the world means that their perceptions center on what they see as being the most obvious. For preschoolers, like Zack, seeing is believing. They tend to base their judgments, which may not be logical, on appearances. Zack believes that because he can see the presents, he should have them. His thinking is affected by centration, or the inability to focus on more than one moment at a time.

She Has More!

Because preschoolers' thinking is so often dominated by their own perceptions, they can become upset when they do not understand the idea that the same quantities can look quite different under certain circumstances. For instance, when Mrs. Cheroney pours equal amounts of lemonade into Abby and Anika's cups, 3-year-old Anika objects-her short cup looks like it holds less than Abby's tall cup. Anika demands to have as much juice as her friend, and there is no reasoning with her until she has a tall cup, too. This egocentric thinking can affect preschoolers' cognitive reasoning as well as their social interactions.

Responding to Others

Sometimes, when another child is injured or feeling very sad about something, 4-year-olds may seem to see things from another's point of view-and may offer sympathy. Four-year-old Lindsey pats Rebecca, who is crying, and says, "You must be sad that your doll's head broke off. Do you have a Band Aid for her?" On the other hand, 3-year-old Sam still has a hard time relating to how a situation might feel to someone else. While his buddy, Peter, sits on the beanbag chair, recovering from a tummy ache and unable to play, Sam whines and stomps around in disappointment. Egocentric, Sam seems far more concerned with his inability to play with Peter than with Peter's discomfort.

What You Can Do

  • Read books together. Enjoy reading, discussing, and acting out stories where the main character progresses from looking at the world from his own perspective to incorporating the perspectives of others.
  • Encourage decision-making. Give preschoolers opportunities to participate in making decisions about their own behaviors. Help them look at problems and solutions from others' perspectives.
  • Offer support and information. Because at this stage children still see things from their own point of view, they may feel, incorrectly, that upsetting situations occur because of something they have done. Reassure them and clarify misconceptions.

5 to 6: "Let's Make It Together!"

by Ellen Booth Church

Elizabeth is playing at the water table, totally engrossed in the process of scooping and pouring. "Look, I'm making rain," she says to no one in particular. "It could be a waterfall," says Ben. With a thoughtful look of surprise Elizabeth says, "Yes, it could. Let's make a big one together!"

Building a Community

Five- and 6-year-olds are more involved in making friends than any other group of children. Their interest in community and communication starts to modulate their egocentrism, leading them to adopt a wider worldview. An increased ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings makes it easier for children to interact with others. This desire to feel like a part of the group slowly turns the egocentric "me" into the larger idea of "we."

Creating Friendships

Children at this stage of development make an effort to create friendships. Best friends are important, even if they change frequently. Friendships are made quickly and can change into non-friendships just as fast as they began. This quick-and-easy shift from one to the other happens as children outgrow old needs and interests and discover different companions.

Working With Others

Kindergartners tend to invent games or play scenarios to share with friends. In fact, they often like to organize other children. Some might say that kindergartners have their feet in both worlds, appearing to have some very egocentric behaviors in some situations and a more worldly perspective in others.

Engaging in Play

Kindergartners' egocentric views become challenged when they begin to engage in cooperative play with others. In order to play together, children are forced to listen to and take into consideration the viewpoints and ideas of others. This is one reason why play is so important to the social and cognitive development of children. It is through these play interactions that children are pushed towards an understanding that other people have an impression of reality that might be different from their own.

Thinking Out Loud

Have you ever noticed how kindergartners tend to think out loud? Sometimes you can overhear the repetitive monologues children use to "narrate" their play activities, like: "Dip and pour, dip and pour, dip and pour, in the pot." Kindergartners often verbalize (to themselves) an action before they make it, saying, for example, "Fm going to put all these blocks in a line." These "discussions" are an important part of the development of what will become the child's silent inner voice.

This ability to think in words is something adults do every day without even being aware of it. It is : the process we use to figure things out in our heads. Kindergartners' monologues are the precursor to this important skill. A strong inner voice is essential not only for cognitive functioning, but also to build social awareness.

Expanding Their Understandings

The transition out of an egocentric viewpoint takes ample blocks of time for interactions with materials and other children. Sadly, many kindergarten teachers feel so much pressure to teach letters and numbers that they have had to cut down (or out) the amount of center or play time they provide each day. Just as children can't be rushed through developmental stages, we can't rush them through their play experiences. Kindergartners need plenty of time to try on, discard, and accept viewpoints through real-world explorations. It is through these important play-based kindergarten experiences that children begin to decrease their egocentric view of the world and adopt a wider worldview.

What You Can Do:

  • Create a play-based environment where cooperative, open-ended interactions with materials and classmates are encouraged.
  • Allow ample time for unhurried, deep explorations.
  • Observe and listen to children's self-talk for an important glimpse of their thinking.
  • Encourage children to talk about their viewpoints, accepting all equally.