Reflections on Mirror Play with Infants and Toddlers

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Reflections on Mirror Play with Infants and Toddlers


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Having compassion and vision helps one to seek out opportunities and also create opportunities. That is what we are. Creators! My interest in Self-representation and Mirror Play was first sparked when my SLP team brought the National Read Aloud 15 Minutes Campaign to Central Florida. The campaign challenges Parents to read aloud to their children (ages Birth-age 8) everyday for 15 minutes. Sounds great, right?

We collected and gave away hundreds of books, served pizza and spread the word about the need and benefits of reading to your children. I felt that something was missing. I felt as if we were jumping to step 4 in a series. What were the preceding steps?

I began to collaborate with Head Start organizations. We noticed an ever-growing trend of Parents with decreased meaningful verbal communication with their children for the first 0-5 years of their life. I started to research early literacy and early cognitive milestones. Today, I will focus on Mirror Play as a viable tool for the development of Self-recognition and Self-Representation in children.

We will discuss the:

-Research (many found in Psychiatric and Psychology journals) regarding Self-representation and self-recognition

-norms regarding Self-representation and Self-recognition

-The behaviors that follow the proper development of self-representation and self-recognition

-Implications of the Research

-My experience in presenting to Parent groups regarding mirror play

-Everyday ways to incorporate Mirror Play in various age groups


Self-Recognition-recognition of one’s own self

Self-Representation- self-view, self-image,self-schema, self-concept, self-awareness

Philosopher and psychologist William James (1842–1910) was one of the first to postulate a theory of the self in The Principles of Psychology. James described two aspects of the self that he termed the “I Self” and “Me Self.” The I Self reflects what people see or perceive themselves doing in the physical world (e.g., recognizing that one is walking, eating, writing), whereas the Me Self is a more subjective and psychological phenomenon, referring to individuals’ reflections about themselves (e.g. characterizing oneself as athletic, smart, cooperative). Other terms such as self-view, self-image, self-schema, and self-concept are also used to describe the self-referent thoughts characteristic of the Me Self. James further distinguished three components of the Me Self. These include: (1) the material self (e.g., tangible objects or possessions we collect for ourselves); (2) the social self (e.g., how we interact and portray ourselves within different groups, situations, or persons); and (3) the spiritual self (e.g., internal dispositions).

In the late twentieth century, researchers began to argue that the self is a cognitive and social construction. Cognitive perspectives suggest that one’s self-representation affects how one thinks about and gives meaning to experiences. Like James, psychologist Ulric Neisser distinguished between one’s self-representation connected to directly perceived experiences and that resulting from reflection on one’s experiences. The “ecological self,” connections of oneself to experiences in the physical environment, and the “interpersonal self,” connections of oneself to others through verbal or nonverbal communication, comprise direct perception of experience. Neisser proposed that these two types of self-representation develop early in infancy. Regarding reflections on one’s experiences, Neisser identified three types of self-representation that emerge in later infancy and childhood with cognitive and social maturation. The temporally “extended self”is based on memories of one’s past experiences and expectations for the future. The “private self”emerges with the understanding that one’s experiences are not directly perceived by others, but rather must be communicated to be shared. The “conceptual self,” one’s overarching theory or schema about oneself based on one’s reflection on experiences within social and cultural context, parallels terms such as self-concept and self-schema. In a 1977 article, psychologist Hazel Markus showed that one’s self-representation or self-schema guides information processing and influences one’s behavior.

As psychologist Roy Baumeister pointed out in Identity: Cultural Change and the Struggle for Self, because self-representation develops through one’s experience of the world, cultural and social factors are important in who we are and what we think about ourselves. Philosopher George Herbert Mead (in Mind, Self, and Society ) postulated that acquisition of self-representation emerges from socialization practices. Mead argued that individuals are socialized to adopt the values, standards, and norms of society through their ability to perceive what others and society would like them to be. Psychologists Tory Higgins, Ruth Klein, and Timothy Strauman further suggested that self-representation includes ideas about who we are (actual self), who we potentially could be (ideal self), and who we should be (ought self), both from one’s own perspective and from one’s perception of valued others’ perspectives.

1978-A study entitled, Development of Self-Recognition in the Infant, was published in the Developmental Psychology. Bernthal and Fischer, hypothesized that self-recognition does not emerge suddenly with one behavior, but gradually develops through a succession of types of behaviors, all of which relate to self-recognition.

-They hypothesized 5 cognitive developmental sequential steps in the development of self-recognition

-The study focused on 48 infants (24 female, 24 male)

5 Cognitive-Developmental Stages

1)Infant coordinates his or her own reaching with the image that he or she sees in the mirror

Task: Tactual Exploration

2)Infant coordinates her own reaching with both the image that she sees and the movement of her own body.

Task: Hat Task

3) Infant coordinates her body movements with the mirror image of her own body and the toy..the toy is not connected to the infant’s body , signifying independent movements

Task:Toy Task

4) Infant coordinates her own body movements with the mirror image of the infant’s face and with the infant’s schema for what her face (her nose)_ normally looks like in a mirror.

Task:Rouge Task

5) 2 step-infant coordinates (a)body movements with the mirror images of her body and the mother point AND (b) the mother’s vocalization with her own vocalization

Task: Name Task

Results-46 of the 48 infants followed the predicted developmental sequence of self-recognition. There was little correlation between object permanence and self-recognition.

Aspects of Mirror Play

◦Pretend Play (middle of second year)

◦Mirror self-recognition (by 24 months of age)

◦Synchronic Imitation (middle of second year)

◦Deferred Imitation (emerges in second year)

Tips for Presenting to Parent Groups

-Discuss in layman’s terms the self-recognition and self-representation

-Address preconceived notions of mirror image, self image, myths and beliefs

-Repeatedly emphasize the proper development of these stages and ways to incorporate it in everyday play from birth

-Continuous retraining in the thinking of mirror play (necessary vs. leisure/luxury time)

Everyday ways to incorporate Mirror Play in various age groups

Play with your infants in front of the mirror

-Have them reach for objects in the mirror

-Sing and read with them in the mirror

-Show them books in the mirror

-cover objects with a cloth in the mirror

-make faces with them in the mirror

-talk with them in the mirror

-mimic their vocalizations in the mirror



Bertenthal, B and Fischer, KW (1978) Development of Self-Recognition in the Infant. Developmental Psychology 14:1, 44-50

Nielsen, M and Dissanayake, C (2004) Pretend Play, Mirror Self-Recognition and Imitation: A Longitudinal Investigation through the Second Year. Infant Behavior and Development 27: 342-365

Carmody, D and Lewis, M (2011) Self-Representation in Children With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorders. Child Psychiatry 43:227-237

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