The Development of Identity and Self-Concept

Thinking about Therapy?
Take our quiz to see therapists who are a good match for you.

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde 


Self-concept and identity are reliant on a strong sense of self-worth. The stronger the foundation on which children base their perceptions, assumptions, and beliefs of themselves, the better equipped they are to participate in a civil society (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).

Among the many factors impacting the development of self-concept, the social, biological, and cultural contexts appear to have the greatest influence. The purpose of this paper is to present, in broad terms, such influences and possible implications for counseling practice.

The Development of Identity and Self-Concept

Self-concept, self-regulation, and self-esteem are considered to all be aspects related to the self, and they make up the self-system. Self-concept is complex, multidimensional, and strongly influenced by the relationships a child establishes during his early childhood and adolescence years (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).

Although the self-system begins to develop in the earliest infancy, it is not until middle childhood and early adolescence that the concepts of identity and self-concept begin to take shape and form. This is due to the fact that knowledge of the self is directly determined by the level of cognitive development a child reaches (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). Hence the construction of self-concept resembles the construction of a house, starting with raw materials scattered everywhere, and as the child grows and matures, he/she is able to organize and integrate the elements into a meaningful whole (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).

As a multidimensional concept, the construct of self-concept is closely intertwined with self-esteem, and its structure is multilayered, combining multiple domains, such as academic and non-academic, which are further divided into different categories, e.g., physical competence, physical appearance, peer and parent relationships (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).

Depending on the level of competence in each of these domains and how important they are to each child/ adolescent, a global self-esteem concept emerges.

In other words, the better a child/adolescent performs in a domain of individual importance, the more his/her level of self-esteem increases, which in turn leads to more positive life outcomes, better emotion regulation, more satisfying relationships, and fewer health problems (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).

Factors that impact self-concept and identity

Social factors

Middle childhood through early adolescence is a period when social interactions with peers are among the most important factors that impact the development of self-concept, self-esteem, and identity. It is at this age when children observe how well they perform in comparison with their peers and how they evaluate their own abilities and accomplishments (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).

Children’s social experiences, especially “cooperative” relations (Psaltis, Duveen & Perret-Clermont, 2009, p. 294) where children engage in egalitarian exchanges of ideas, express personal thoughts, consider the position of others, and defend their own point of view lead to a positive self-concept, cognitive development, and constructive communication.

Family context and parental involvement are also vital in the development of the self-concept. Caring, responsive parenting combined with an authoritative parenting style where parents pay close attention to how they communicate, express their love and attention, encourage and support children to take on challenges, foster autonomy, enforce rules and standards, and demand that children behave according to their level of maturity are shown to lead to positive development of self-concept, high self-esteem and greater capacity for self-regulation (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).

Biological Factors

Children’s self-concept and identity are dictated in part by biological factors. Aspects like innate strengths and weaknesses, physical appearance, and intellectual abilities have an impact on how children perceive themselves, how they interact with others, the type of relationships they enter into, and the peer groups they select or get accepted by.

For instance, children’s natural temperament and personal characteristics influence how they will experience any given situation (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). Some are more easy-going and take stressful circumstances well, while others may have difficulty in dealing with challenges. As a result, they may perceive themselves as incompetent, inadequate, or unable to measure up to others, which may lead to wrong beliefs about oneself and thus a negative self-concept.

Intellectual abilities and disabilities, such as learning disabilities, contribute as well to how children develop their self-concept and identity. Research shows that children with learning disabilities (LD) have difficulties with peer social functioning, tend to have higher rates of social isolation, and are often rejected by peers without LD (Estell et. al., 2008).

Although children with LD do form friendships and become members of peer groups, they tend to associate with peers similar to themselves, and, at times, with peers who display high levels of aggression and antisocial behavior, affiliations which are less than optimal for positive [self-concept] development (Estell, 2008).

Cultural Factors

Due to the fact that the construction of self-concept is a social process, the culture where children are born and raised will shape how they develop their self-concept and identity. As a result, children in one culture will grow to have a different “self” than children in another culture, because the judgments, beliefs, values, and expectations that parents, teachers, and peers hold and practice are unique to each cultural context (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).

For instance, although there are shared values and beliefs across cultures, children reared in an individualistic culture, especially in Western societies, such as United States, grow to value autonomy and self-reliance, with emphasis on personal opinions, ideas and experiences, whereas children from collectivist cultures in Eastern societies, e.g., China, are raised to value relatedness to others, loyalty to family, perspective-taking and putting group’s needs above their own (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).

At the same time however, it is important to note that there are cultural differences within countries, regions, and groups, as well as within individuals and families from the same group.

Implications for future practice

As stated above, self-concept is used interchangeably with self-esteem, and self-esteem is directly linked to mental health (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). As such, it is paramount that counselors are aware of the multiple factors that influence the development of self-concept and identity and that they are cognizant of appropriate ways to effectively deal with issues stemming from low self-esteem.

Identifying low esteem “as if” it were the cause of mental health problems, counselors may direct their interventions to change affect in children (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). It is hoped that by helping children gain more confidence in themselves and how they feel about themselves, they will perform better socially and academically, their mental health will improve, and their overall self-concept will improve, thus leading to more positive life outcomes.


Broderick, P. C., & Blewitt, P. (2015). The life span: Human development for helping professionals (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Estell, D. B., Jones, M. H., Pearl, R., Van Acker, R., Farmer, T. W., & Rodkin, P. C. (2008). Peer groups, popularity, and social preference. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 41(1), 5–14.
Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Psaltis, C., Duveen, G., & Perret-Clermont, A.-N. (2009). The social and the psychological: Structure and context in intellectual development. Human Development, 52(5), 291–312.
Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

You May Also Like