Sense of Personal Continuity and Distinctiveness from Others in Childhood
Two basic dimensions are proposed to underlie the sense of personal identity. The first refers to a dimension of personal continuity from the past into the future, the second to a dimension of distinctiveness from others. In the present study it is hypothesized that the onset of children’s formal education (i.e., the entrance to the elementary school) and the resulting new social experiences will challenge the children’s personal identity. The continuity of the self and the individual uniqueness are threatened during this period because of changes in children’s social status, that is, changes from the status of children treated individually within family settings to the status of pupil or member of a peer-group. These experiences are thought to affect the sense of self-esteem of the children. In total 102 children participated in this study. They were divided into two age groups with mean ages 6.0 years (n=51; 27 boys and 24 girls) for the preschool, and 8-years (n=51; 26 girls and 25 boys) for the elementary school children. All children were presented with a semi-structured interview to assess their general feelings of sameness over time and their ideas about similarities with and distinctiveness from others. In addition, particular features of the self underlying these feelings were identified. A five-point scale was used to assess children’s evaluation of themselves, that is, self-esteem. The results indicate that (a) elementary school children manifest a lower self-esteem than preschool children; (b) the number of children who did not notice changes of themselves over time decreases with age; (c) elementary school children perceive more frequently than preschool children changes as well as continuity (i.e., sameness) of the self; (d) with the elementary school children the distinctiveness from others decreases, while the sense of similarity with others increases; (e) the perceived sense of continuity and distinctiveness is based on different personality traits with the preschool and elementary school children, and (f) elementary school children think about themselves in psychological terms more often than preschool children, whose self-descriptions are foremost based on appearance.
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