A lot of social emotional language uses big terms that would take volumes of scholarly tomes to explore. And the truth is, studying mental health, especially in young kids, is a pretty recent scientific endeavor. My goal is to simplify some big concepts so you as a parent can help your child learn some beautiful coping skills, develop a healthy relationship with their sense of self, and communicate their thoughts and emotions in a safe way. With that being said, today we are tackling self-awareness.
Self-awareness is one of those ideas that sounds simple. It’s how aware you are of yourself, right? Right, but let’s get more specific. Self-awareness is, at its core, the ability to observe your thoughts, emotions, and actions objectively. Self-awareness can be internal, dealing with how you feel about things, or external, dealing with how you are perceived by others via social norms. All people fall on a spectrum of being naturally gifted in one or the other, neither, or both.
No matter where your child’s natural predilection lies, we can all work on growing in these soft skills. I’m going to give you a few exercises to work on internal and external self-awareness with your child.
Have you ever seen someone in public pick their nose and eat it? Or had a conversation with someone where you asked yourself, When will they stop talking about themselves? If you said yes, you have encountered someone with low external self-awareness. They most likely either think their interactions in public are fine or don’t think to examine those interactions at all. So how can you ensure your child is less likely to be that social nose picker?
Ask them empathy-related questions during read-aloud time. As you read to your children, ask them how the actions of characters in the story make others feel. As they think and answer, ask how they know. For example, if your kid says they think Trever is upset at Pig, ask, “How can you tell Trevor is upset with Pig?” If they aren’t sure how to articulate it, guilde them by saying something like, “I can see he is upset because he is frowning.” (Also, as a side note, I cannot recommend Aaron Blabey’s Pig the Pug series enough! They are full of really great social content, and they are too funny.)
Discuss ‘public’ vs. ‘private’ choices. Recently, I was in a store where a child took off her shirt because she was warm. Her dad gently asked her to put on her shirt because taking it off is something that is okay at home but not at the store. This gentle conversation is a great model for how to introduce and reinforce what is a public behavior vs. a private behavior. This girl was around three, but if your child is a bit older, you can have a more in-depth conversation about why we have some public and some private behaviours.
Where external self-awareness deals with how you think about yourself when interacting with others, internal self-awareness is how you process your own thoughts, feelings, and sense of self. Thinking about the choices you make and the feelings you have is a great way to healthily connect to your sense of self. Here are some activities to encourage internal self-awareness:
Name the feelings. Brené Brown has been researching the power of identifying your emotions and how it can reduce anxiety and distress surrounding negative emotions. Everyday, take some time to talk to your child about a time they felt happy, and a time they did not. When they share a time that was not happy, ask why they felt that way. Naming the feeling and reflecting on it can help them think critically about their choices and themselves.
Journal using prompts. I am a huge advocate of daily journaling. Taking time to think about your day, what you like, who makes you feel safe, etc. is very helpful to learn more about yourself.
Helping your child have strong external and internal self-awareness can help them navigate any social or emotional situation with confidence and empathy.
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