Parenting K-6 Kids/Age of Self-Awareness


Hello Leslie! I don't know much about child development, and I am trying to figure out at what age a child becomes aware of his own physical appearance.
I actually need this information for a historical novel. My character, Esh, is a blond-haired, green-eyed white boy who was adopted as a newborn by a Cheyenne family. It's the mid-1800s, so his Cheyenne family could certainly have a small mirror obtained through trade. But they are purposefully keeping Esh away from other whites in the fear that the whites will want to reclaim him.
At what age will this boy realize: "I don't look like all the people around me" and become self-conscious? Esh is very happy with his Cheyenne family, but at some point he'll begin to question if he really belongs with them. I just don't know how soon, and that changes the dynamic/drama of the scene.
I realize this isn't quite in your wheelhouse, but I will be very grateful for any insight you can provide!

Hi Elyse,
You're right in that I'm not sure my answer will help. But here are some thoughts. Normally, children become aware of differences when they go to school, unless these differences are pointed out earlier. For example, a child adopted by a different race couple might notice sooner because other family members, neighbors or strangers point it out.

In your case, it seems to me that the whole tribe would need to not say anything for this child not to realize he's different (and would that be possible?). Further, even without a mirror, he'd be able to notice his skin (i.e. arms) were a lighter color. Even with a tan, as a fair haired/skinned child, he'd be lighter than the others. Initially, he'd ask about it out of curiosity. The idea that he's different or doesn't belong would come later when higher level thinking occurs. A younger child would accept the different coloring as something God did. An older child who knows how children are made, knows and sees the culture he's raised in, and can have cause/effect thinking is more likely to wonder (around 9 or 10 give or take a few years).

Culture makes a difference in these things too. Child development, as I learned it is based on western society. In other cultures, development, particularly social development, would evolve differently.

I hope that helps.

Good luck with the book.  

Parenting K-6 Kids

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Leslie Truex


I am a parent of two, but also I'm a social worker with over 15 year experience working with children and families. I can provide many tips and techniques to help with child behavior, interventions for specific behavioral issues, ideas to help children through difficult times such as divorce or grief, hints on keeping the family running smoothly, and tips for developing confident, happy children.


I have a master's in social work and over 15 years experience working with children and families. I have worked in schools, public health, mental health and adoption agencies providing parent education courses and children's groups.

BA in Psychology and MSW.

©2017 All rights reserved.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]