How can I….
- help my child learn to recognize their emotions?
- help my child manage their emotions?
- help my child understand their strengths and challenges?
- support my child in learning about themselves?
What is Self-Awareness?
Self-awareness involves at least two aspects of knowing oneself. First, it means being able to identify and express emotions. It also means understanding strengths and challenges so that one can make decisions for where to put their talents and where they may need to improve.
Being able to label and express our emotions is not something all of us are skilled at. In fact, many of us learn to ignore our emotions and keep them inside, and this can have negative consequences such as depression and anxiety. Having the vocabulary for emotions is something that can be learned and parents can encourage their children to do so. For small children, this can be as simple as saying “I am sad, mad, scared or happy.” As they get older and develop their vocabulary, they are able to articulate a more accurate description of how they feel.
In addition to understanding and expressing their own feelings, children develop identities and learn what their strengths and areas of challenge are in school, at home, with friends or in extracurricular activities. This also helps them develop their self-awareness as their sense of who they are and what they are good at evolves.
Why it Matters
We all have a strong need to feel seen and understood. By having self-awareness, we are better able to communicate so that others know what is going on with us and have a better understanding of who we are. When children have the right words to express how they are feeling, the adults around them can appropriately attend to what they need. When they don’t, they can be left feeling frustrated or even angry.
Children with strong self-awareness are:
- more likely to do well in school.
- more capable of building positive relationships.
- more confident and independent.
- better at managing stress.
- less likely to become anxious and depressed.
Parents and caregivers are better able to help their children when they have a sense of where they are at. Think about these three questions and reflect on whether or not you have noticed this in your child.
- Is your child able to identify basic emotions? (For example, sad, happy, angry, excited)
- Can your child identify why they feel that way? (For example, “I feel sad because Joey doesn’t want to play with me right now?”)
- Does your child have a sense of what they are good at (in school, at home, with friends, in extracurricular activities) and areas where they may want to improve?
You may not know the answers to these questions, and that is okay. The first step is to observe them and check in. Ask questions and make a mental note of what they are able to do. Then you can use the Connect and Communicate section to have more discussions and help guide them to becoming more self-aware.
Connect & Communicate:
How Can I Help My Child Develop These Skills?
Adults can help children make the connection between the way they are feeling and the particular behaviors that may stem from those emotions. Here are some sentence starters you can use to help your child identify and express their emotions:
- Make guesses: “It seems like you are feeling………is that right?”
- Allow them to identify: “Can you share with me why you are feeling……..?”
- Connect the physical with the emotional “I notice that your eyes are starting to water and your head is down. Are you feeling…”
- Model your own emotion management: “I’m feeling stressed. I need some space.” or “I’m going to go outside and take a few deep breaths.” or “I was really annoyed when I saw the mess in the bathroom. Now that I’m feeling calmer, I’ll ask you to pick up your clothes from the floor.”
How can I Help My Child Learn to Manage Their Emotions?
It is important that children be able to express both positive and challenging feelings with family, friends, and other important people in their lives. Learning regulation strategies to help them calm down before they speak or act can result in more effective and meaningful interaction and improved relationships.
Examples of emotion regulation strategies include:
- taking deep breaths
- giving themselves some space
- not sweeping emotions under the rug
- finding ways to calmly express strong emotions
- finding social support
- engaging in positive self-talk
It is important to note that there is not just one way to regulate one’s emotions and that factors such as background, culture and age can influence how one gets back to center. The idea is that everyone finds the particular ways of regulating emotions that work for them.
In addition to the strategies above, you can support your child by:
- Validating their feelings and try to see situations from their point of view
- Modeling both labeling and regulating emotions; show your kids that you also experience a variety of emotions
- Providing an environment where they feel comfortable sharing both positive and difficult emotions.
- Acknowledge their challenges (in school, learning, sports, etc) and help them build on their strengths.
- Consulting with a school counselor or other service provider to identify someone outside of the family to help your child.
Working with Self-Awareness and Emotions
Read + Discuss Books about Emotions: Here is a short list of 12 books that you can read with your child. Find one they may like and discuss it with them afterwards. https://franticmommy.com/2021/04/books-about-big-feelings-for-kids-and-tweens.html
Read + Discuss Books about Self-Awareness: A list of 32 books abou self-awareness for kids https://childrenslibrarylady.com/self-awareness-books/
Create a Calming Corner: You and your child can create a space in the house where they can go to calm down. It may include things to draw with, a stress ball, a cozy blanket, some favorite books, or a list of strategies to help them calm down.
Use a Mood Meter Help your child identify their feelings by using the Mood Meter. This can be done once in the morning and/or in the evening or whenever something has happened that you want to process. Here is a video with an overview of what it is. https://www.coursera.org/lecture/managing-emotions-uncertainty-stress/mood-meter-overview-wsMTF You can also download an app to use here: http://moodmeterapp.com/ or find a printable version online.
Watch and Discuss the Movie Inside Out: Watch the movie Inside Out from Disney to discuss emotions. You can discuss times when your child has felt those feelings and what some strategies are from dealing with the stronger ones. Here are some pages that have discussion questions:
Greater Good in Education Activities: (NOTE: Although these are described for students, they can easily be used in the home environment too)
Finger Tracing Mindfulness Practice: https://ggie.berkeley.edu/practice/finger-tracing-mindful-breathing-for-students/
Lovingkindness Buddy Wishes: https://ggie.berkeley.edu/practice/loving-kindness-buddy-wishes/
Shake it Off:
Working with Self-Awareness and Identify
Personal Identity Wheel: Create this with your older elementary school child or have them do it on their own and share it with you. Each family member can also do one and share it as a group. https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/inclusive-teaching/personal-identity-wheel/
Try New Things: Encourage your child to try new activities and model that behavior too. This allows them to explore various types of exercise, sports and activities that will eventually help them determine what they like and what they are good at.
Share the Joy: Pick a regular time of day such as the evening drive home, dinner, or bedtime. Invite each family member to share three things that went well that day or that they are happy about.
Contact & Collaborate:
Many schools have programs or activities that are related to Social and Emotional Learning. Ask your child’s teacher, school counselor or nurse about what they are already doing. In addition to that, you can learn more about self-awareness and how to develop it in your child by:
- Nurturing their passions so that they can get better at the things they enjoy. Look for ways to do that with Parks and Recreation, Boys and Girls Club or YMCA.
- Starting a parent book club for learning about social and emotional learning.
Working with Emotions
Parent Resource Guide for Social/Emotional Learning: A list of resources on social and emotional learning for parents.. https://www.edutopia.org/sel-parents-resources
Podcasts for Learning more about SEL: https://www.movethisworld.com/social-emotional-learning/2019-8-2-7-best-podcasts-to-learn-more-about-social-emotional-learning/
Generation Mindful: Products that help develop self-awareness and managing emotions at home.
VeryWell (article): Coping Strategies for Kids A list and description of how to help kids manage stress. https://www.verywellfamily.com/coping-skills-for-kids-4586871
Coping Skill for Kids (podcast) Episodes are linked to helping parents help their kids with emotions.
Addressing Stress and Anxiety in Elementary School (article): https://ggie.berkeley.edu/collection/addressing-stress-and-anxiety-in-elementary-students/
Understood (website): 9 Activities to Help Your Child Explore Strengths and Passions https://www.understood.org/articles/en/9-ways-to-help-your-child-explore-strengths-and-passions?_sp=09440446-93e9-49ff-bc4d-e32719ca5502.1644345743742
Understood (website) Child Strengths Checklist https://www.understood.org/articles/en/types-of-strengths-in-kids?_sp=09440446-93e9-49ff-bc4d-e32719ca5502.1644510523919