As your child grows older, they will meet new people and discover a lot of new things and experiences. They also begin to discover who they are: their likes, dislikes, preferences, etc.
In other words, they become more self-aware. This helps them understand their strengths and weaknesses and gain the ability to accurately assess their own performance. This all can help them live their life to the fullest as confident, successful adults.
As parents, we can help our kids improve their self-awareness skills with these ten strategies:
Show them what feelings look like
If your child is young, you can help them name and identify different types of emotions. Doing so can help them better understand how and why they are feeling a certain way.
Whenever an opportunity presents itself (story time, movie night, afternoon at the playground, etc), highlight when a character is feeling a particular emotion that would resonate with your child and is age appropriate. You can also do an exercise wherein you ask your child to choose a picture of an emotion and let them recall the last time they felt that way. You can follow it up by asking why they felt that way.
These exercises will not only help your child learn how to process their emotions, but it also gives them the chance to develop better communication skills by expanding their emotional vocabulary.
Help them identify the feelings of others
In addition to getting to know what they are feeling, the exercises listed above can also help your kids learn about what other people are feeling.
Use these opportunities to teach your child about empathy. Developing empathy is important for a child to become a well-adjusted and confident human being. Children and teens that can empathize with their peers are less likely to be overwhelmed by their emotions and are better equipped to handle peer pressure when it presents itself.
Set a good example
The good news is that young children tend to emulate their parents’ actions and language. Thus, as a parent, it is an awesome opportunity to set a good example for your kids by expressing your emotions in a constructive manner.
If you lose your cool for a moment, use that as a teaching opportunity for your child (and for yourself!). Explain to them what caused you feel this way and what strategies you used to regulate your emotions.
Empathize with your child
As a parent (and as an adult), you have a lot of responsibilities and it can sometimes be overwhelming. And it can be difficult to empathize with others in those difficult moments.
When you see your child expressing their big emotions, you might tend to discount what they are going through. It could happen with you’re especially tired or have a lot on your plate.
What you may not realize in that moment is when we learn to accept and welcome big negative feelings from our children, we help facilitate a positive change. Learn to empathize with your child and give them your full acceptance.
Ditch the blame-game
It is never a good idea to point out who to blame when you encounter problems. Even more so when you’re with your kids. Not only is this counter-productive, but it doesn’t help develop your kids’ problem-solving skills either.
Instead, you can teach your kids to deal with the problem head-on from a proactive stance. Rather than asking who did what, it’s better to ask them “What can we do about this?”
This reinforces their sense of autonomy, and that they are responsible for their actions.
Let them communicate freely
Be patient and show understanding when your child is talking with you. This is also important when your kids come to you to confess something, such as accidentally breaking a glass or forgetting their homework.
As parents, this is your chance to let them know that you’ve got their backs and that you’re goal is to help them to take responsibility for their actions.
The best way to show them you have their back is by always being ready to listen to what they have to say, and, importantly, fully accept them. This is where your bond as a parent and child will thrive.
Kids know when you’re not paying attention to them. Sure, you’ll have busy days and you won’t have the energy to fully engage with them. One way to avoid that feeling is to actually schedule time to be fully present with your child. It may be only for 5 minutes before dinner, or part of bedtime routine if they’re younger, but it will go a long way to help your child feel heard and valued.
And of course, while you’re with them, be present and be a good listener. Being with them physically, but being mentally somewhere else will undermine all the benefit of your time together. Plus, it will be frustrating to your child if they sense you aren’t actually listening to them. Overtime, this can contribute to a more distant child-parent relationship.
Nurture their passions
It’s important to let our children fully explore their interests. If your child develops a genuine interest in something, look for ways to nurture their passion.
The good news is that nurturing their interest doesn’t have to involve investment. Showing your real interest in their passion is sometimes more than enough. Ask them to teach you what they’ve learned. Schedule a time to research the topic online together, or visit the library and check-out books on the subject. And a personal favorite: talk about your child’s passion to your spouse or grandparent in front of them, and be sure to include them in the conversation.
Try new things
Helping your child increase their self-awareness inevitably means they will need to try new things. For some, that’s an exciting proposition, while for other children, it can be daunting or intimidating.
Trying new things doesn’t mean executing on every idea. You can encourage them to reflect on what new things they want to try in a kid’s journal. This is a great way to let your kids explore interests and ideas in a risk-free environment first. It will also help hone the list from down passing fancies to genuine interests.
And as an added bonus, using a journal will help introduce them to the concept of writing down their thoughts, feelings, worries, ideas, etc. Doing so helps increase their sense of self-awareness.
Embrace a growth mindset
Having a growth mindset is an important and valuable set of behaviors and beliefs that contribute to the well-being and happiness in one’s life. Helping your child to embrace it at an early age sets them on the path to being self-aware and confident in themselves.
The easiest way to teach a concept to your child is to model the behavior yourself. You can highlight moments in your life that you failed at something, only to try a different strategy and then succeed later. Or another way may be to share with your child something new that you are learning or a topic you want to learn more about. Lastly, you can ask others in your family (like a spouse or a grandparent) about a time they failed at something and what actions they took to ultimately find success.
Note: these failures and successes don’t have to be about work or other big life topics. They could be as small and mundane as fixing something around the house, like a vase or a tire of a bicycle. The important concept to get across to your child is that failures don’t define you. They are simply opportunities to try a different strategy to get to success. Recognizing that failure isn’t a part of who you are is a key attribute of being self-aware.
Self-awareness is undoubtedly a valuable quality to have as a person. And as we’ve discussed, it can be taught through various methods and examples. Being self-aware is not automatically ingrained or genetically predisposed at the outset. So as parents, we can expose our children to these teaching methods to help them become more self-aware and confident, important components of happy and successful individuals.
About the Author
Alexandra Eidens is the founder of Big Life Journal, an engaging resource to help kids develop a resilient growth mindset so they can face life’s challenges with confidence.