Children`s Self-Identity through Social Interactions

Categories: High school

The purpose of this study is to understand some of the ways children co-construct their identities through their language uses. To examine the ways in which children in one institution build relationships and participate in activities together. As I began to observe a preschool setting, I discovered many things using the ethnographic field notes methods. Ethnographic, according to Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw, “Ethnographic field research involves the study of groups and people as they go about their everyday live”(1995, p.1). My ethnographic case consists of two sets of three to five year old preschool children becoming close friends at a preschool.

My fieldwork was completed three to two times a week for twelve hours during the times of 11:30 am to 1:00 pm. During this time the children were getting ready for meal time, having meal time and finally cleaning up. Meanwhile, I took objective notes based on what I saw and heard from the group of children. According to Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw, the purpose of the ethnographer is to search for “a deeper immersion in others’ worlds in order to grasp what they experience as meaningful and important” (1995, p.

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2). When analyzing my case I came upon the phenomenon of the enactment of traditional gender roles during the creation of exclusive friendships between toddlers. A question that guided my further research was: How do three to five year old peers build exclusive close friendships at school?

Selective Literature Review

Upon reviewing my case it was evident that there was a difference between the way my participants (boys and girls) communicated within their friendships.

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The girls had a connection of their own as well as the boys. According to Dyson & Genishi, “As children come to participate and to interact within the shared practices of people, they develop a sense of identity and of belonging to that group” (2005, p.8) Young children learn through their experiences and what they see around them, which explains why my participants choose to socialize with the same gender. Furthermore, Thorne mentions that, “in nearly every study of school situations where kids from age three though junior high are given the opportunity to choose companions of the same age, girls have shown a strong preference to be with girls, and boys with boys” (1993, p. 46).

Another connection to the literature that I came across was how Thorne explains that, “As individuals, we always display or “do” gender, but this dichotomous difference (no one escapes being declared female or male) may be more or less relevant, and relevant in different ways, from one social context to another.(1993, p.29) Which is visible during my fieldwork.

Furthermore, I identified how children managed to develop skills that allowed themselves to show and practice such emotions throughout my observations. Emotions that were perhaps learned through play. Galman and Mallozzi explain that, “Pretend play has been widely validated as predictive of our contributing to the strengthening of social-emotional competencies, including perspective-taking, or beginning to understand other people’s emotions (2005, p. 43) My participants showed a variety of social emotional skills with their peers such as initiating or joining in play, expressing awareness of other people’s feelings, listening to each other as they spoke and acknowledging each other.

Site & Participants

My ethnographic study took place in a preschool setting named Options for learning. There are many Options for Learning throughout the United States. The fieldwork that I completed took place in Azusa, California. Options for learning is a quality non-profit organization that helps working families and students care for their children. It is a great place to observe because it has the potential requirements that encourage and support an environment that is rich in opportunities to learn and develop a child. I began my study in room four where Deisy, Nancy and John class teach. In this preschool class, there are twenty-four students with nineteen boys and only five girls. The student’s age ranged from three to five years of age. My participants included two boys named Zeke and Jonathan and two girls Jaylin and Celeste. The participants ethnic backgrounds is hispanic. The socioeconomic status of the children is low income due to the assumption for their enrollment in Options for Learning. The children spoke English and did not encounter moments where they ever spoke spanish.


The following findings are examples that I encountered during my observation. The quotes of what the children said are translated to the best of my ability.

Caring For One Another

Each time I arrived the children were sitting in group time while two helpers would assist another teacher set up the lunch table. During one of my observations teacher John insisted that they be quiet so that they listen to his instruction. After mentioning this to the children he noticed a couple of children not obeying to his rules so, he send a couple of children to sit in the back including Celeste. I observed Jaylin who had a concerned look on her face and whispered to her friend next to her. She asked if Celeste got in trouble and also kept looking back towards her. Jaylin then persisted to the back kneeled down and touched Celeste’s shoulder. Jaylin asked her if she was okay. Celeste was looking down with a sad look in her face. The class were dancing during group time including Zeke and Jonathan. When all of a sudden Jonathan falls to the ground. Zeke goes over to Jonathan and helps him get up. Zeke says, “Are you ok”? Jonathan gets up as if nothing happened. He kept dancing and smiled.


During lunch time the children can choose to sit wherever they would like to sit. There are a total of three tables with a teacher in the middle of each one. Celeste and Jaylin were sitting on the table next to one another having lunch when Jaylin mentions to Celeste that she loves her bracelet and wishes she had one too. Without any hesitation Celeste removes her bracelets and gives to Jaylin. Celeste says, “Here, we can share”. Jaylin is so happy and says thank you. They both start to giggle. Zeke and Jonathan were sitting down on the lunch table. Jonathan mentions that he ran out of milk. The teacher was busy talking to another child and does not notice that Jonathan wants more milk. Zeke offers to share some of his milk. Jonathan agrees and Zeke pours it unto his cup. Jonathan proceeds to drink it.


I noticed that within my participants friendships there was a common concern for one another and a willingness to share. In correlation with my findings in regards to Celeste sharing her bracelet with Jaylin, Thorne talks about,…”the significance of material objects in kid’s social relations, as a focus of provocation and dispute, as a medium through which alliances may be launched and disrupted, as sacraments of social inclusion and painful symbols of exclusion, and as markers of hierarchy” (1993, p.21). In contrast, Celeste used the object of the bracelet to give to Jaylin as a symbol of their close friendship that they both share. It brought happiness, positive closeness and warmth to them as they both looked at each other and laughed.

On the other hand, pertaining to Jonathan and Zeke’s situation, Zeke was genuinely concerned for his friend when he fell to the ground. According to Galman and Mallozzit, “Children’s play is emotional work in which they are attempting to try on and work out different and competing configurations of self and world” (2015, p. 43). It could have been possible that Zeke used his emotional work, as an attempt to comfort his friend, who could have been hurt.

When examining how the two genders interacted I noticed how their boundaries, non-actions and actions are defined by gender. The girls displayed some traditional feminine gestures such as, calm, giggly, polite and whispering into each others ear. As oppose to the boys presented some traditional masculine qualities such as, energetic, loud and less expressive than the girls. The girls said things like, “thank you” and “your welcome”. They also touched each other to comfort one another and share. Unlike the boys they did not express feelings such as when Jonathan fell or when Zeke asked him if he was ok. Also, Jonathan was not as mannered and polite as the girls when Zeke shared his milk to Jonathan. Jonathan simply brushed everything off like if he was used to it.


It was valuable to see how the friendships between the two genders developed. There was a friendly attachment between my participants that each gender displayed in their own way. I began to realize that as children develop social and emotional skills, they gain the confidence and competence needed to build relationships, problem solve, and cope with emotions. Even though, I mostly found myself identifying with the females I also identified with some of the qualities that the boys had. It was clear to me from the start that gender can be defined in many ways. To assume that putting labels such a boy and girl makes it ok for each person to only fit such categories. It limits the a person from being who they really are. This study also brought back memories of my own childhood and how I was as a child. I do not remember much but I can also say that most of friends were of the same gender as mine. Much of the interactions between my participants felt like they were familiar strangers with little wisdom of who they really were. Yet, they still managed to find ways to entertain themselves and show creativity and independence. They formed close and secure relationships within their peer relationships.

It allowed them to experience, regulate, and express emotions in socially and culturally appropriate ways. They were able to explore the environment and learn all in the context of family, community, and culture. I believe that my ethnographic study was helpful in understanding how children construct their identities in the environment they develop. The children were able to identify themselves with the same gender and play with each other which as a result, a friendship was expanding. My study did have shortcoming information due to many factors. One was the classroom being too noisy therefore, I was not able to capture what the children were saying word for word. Another obstacle was not being able to stay long enough to continue my study. I believe that in order to gain further insight, I would have wanted to observe more and compare with other children’s interactions.In this ethnographic study, I explored how two sets of preschool dyads developed their friendships within traditional gender roles and how they build their self-identity through social interactions.

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Children`s Self-Identity through Social Interactions. (2021, Oct 15). Retrieved from

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