When can children recognize themselves in mirrors?

You might already be limiting Baby’s screentime, but there’s one surface you probably haven’t stopped them from staring at: the mirror. Baby may spend a lot of time gazing lovingly at their own reflection, maybe so much that you’ve started to wonder if you need to limit that too!

Baby’s fascination with the mirror is nothing to worry about, though. All that time that Baby spends staring at their own reflection isn’t a sign of an inflated ego. At this age, Baby actually doesn’t yet realize that it’s their own face in the mirror!

Baby might be doing all sorts of impressive things like walking, helping you dress them, and starting to feed themself, but up until 18 months to 2 years of age, toddlers still don’t have enough of a sense of self to understand that what they’re seeing in mirrors is actually their own faces. Scientists have tested babies’ sense of self-awareness using mirrors since the 1970s by positioning toddlers in front of mirrors, putting a mark on the toddlers’ faces or shoulders, and watching to see how they’ll react. Up until about 2 years of age, babies don’t typically react to the mark, which leads scientists to determine that the baby lacks the cognitive ability to connect their reflection with their real body.

So for all that face-to-face time, Baby doesn’t stare at the mirror because they are happy to see themself. At this age they just really, really likes looking at faces. It takes a lot of brainpower to be able to recognize oneself in a mirror, and Baby probably has about 9 more months to go before their brain can totally comprehend who they're gazing at.

It’s amazing to think about how nearly all adults use mirrors, and take for granted what they mean and what they do. The next time you catch a glimpse of yourself, take a second to appreciate the fact that you understand exactly whose reflection that is!

  • “Important Milestones: Your Child at Two Years.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department for Health and Human Services, January 21 2016. Web.
  • Maggie Koerth-Baker. “Kids (And Animals) Who Fail The Classic Mirror Test May Still Have A Sense Of Self.” Scientific American. Nature America Inc., November 29 2010. Web.
  • Phillipe Rochat. “Five levels of self-awareness as they unfold early in life.” Consciousness and Cognition. 12 (2003) 717–731. Web. February 2003.

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