The Physical Self (page 2)
Children, as physical beings, have attitudes about themselves involving their physical body. How that body moves and interacts with objects, how children think they look, the kinds of skills their bodies can do—all influence self-esteem. Self-awareness is thought to originate when infants begin to discover themselves and their environment by flinging their hands about and learning what is part of their bodies and what is not. Sensations of cold, hunger, and warmth all work together to help infants learn about body and self. During the entire sensorimotor period, children use their bodies to learn about themselves and their world.
Recognize the importance of children’s physical selves to the development of self-esteem:
- Take many photos of children for scrapbooks, bulletin boards, or gifts.
- Talk about differences in skin color. The California Tomorrow Project (1999) recommends obtaining paint chips and having children find chips that match their skin color. Children can be taught that they have different skin colors because of different amounts of melanin inside their bodies.
- Provide all kinds of mirrors for children to use—full-length, hand, magnifying—and give children feedback as they look at themselves: “You have dark brown eyes.” “Look at your shoulders.” “Where are your eyebrows?”
- Keep records of children’s height and weight. Cash-register tapes or long strips of paper, exactly the heights of the children, help them see how tall they are. Make certain you are sensitive to children who are taller or smaller than others.
- Measure other parts of the body, such as hands, feet, ears, thumbs, and noses, with arbitrary measures such as hands and feet.
- Make a graph with children’s names on one axis and skin, hair, or eye color on the other. Discuss differences in skin, hair, and eye color.
- Play games that emphasize body parts—Looby Loo or Simon Says.
- Provide large- and small-muscle equipment for children to climb in, through, over, or under and to manipulate with their fingers and hands.
- Make booklets or charts of things children can do. A booklet called I Can Run could begin with the main sentence “I can run,” which then serves as the basis for other pages in the book: “I can run quickly; I can run slowly or angrily or happily,” and so forth. Children can illustrate each page. Similar books could be titled I Can Jump, I Can Bend or Climb or Stretch or Hop and so on.
A vital part of the child’s physical self is gender. As children mature, they become aware of sexual differences. This awareness is often apparent in frank discussions while using the bathroom or in detailed drawings of self. A confident and aware teacher treats discussions and questions with respect and is ready to help clear up misconceptions (Chrisman & Couchenour, 2002).
Teachers and parents must recognize the importance of sexuality and its relationship to children’s positive or negative feelings about themselves (National PTA, 2002). Adults working with children should use proper names for genitals, talk frankly about the differences between boys and girls, and encourage children to take on the roles and feelings of others during sociodramatic play.
Adult attitudes toward sexuality are important to children’s self-esteem. For many adults, the topic of sexuality produces guilt and anxiety as well as positive feelings. Adults who infer in subtle ways that certain behaviors are bad may create anxiety or shame in the child. Positive feelings are aided by a teacher who understands and accepts the child’s sexuality.
Gendered cultures develop during the preschool years (Gunnar, 2003). Promoting unbiased attitudes and values toward gender and gender roles requires you, the teacher, to examine your values and prejudices. Women’s movements have made our nation aware of society’s part in assigning rigid gender roles early in life. For example, the statement “He’s all boy” reinforces behavior in boys that would not be tolerated in girls. You can help children become aware of their own sexuality without assigning them stereotyped gender roles:
- Be certain that the block, woodworking, and wheel-toy areas do not become boys’ centers and the housekeeping area a girls’ center.
- Dismiss or call together children with red shoes, blue socks, buckle shoes, zipper jackets, green eyes, and so forth, rather than dividing the group by boys and girls.
- Provide male and female models in a variety of job situations.
- Ask the boys to help clean up, cook, wash tables, and do other tasks often stereotyped as women’s work.
- Find stories to read portraying men and women in various occupations not assigned by gender role.
- Challenge children when they make statements such as “Boys can’t do that” or “That’s not for girls” by giving information and facts to correct their stereotyped thinking.
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