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Social Awareness

How can I help my child . . . ?

  • recognize others’ emotions and develop empathy
  • be aware of their own impact on others
  • be interested in and open to differences in others

Developmentally, children first become self-aware and as they get older and have more experiences with other people, they become socially aware.  Social awareness is the ability to relate to others and understand where they are coming from. It involves being able to: 

  • notice how others are feeling and respond appropriately 
  • feel empathy and compassion for others
  • understand and respect others’ viewpoints and perspectives
  • be open and accepting of others, including those from different backgrounds, cultures, and with different beliefs or values

Through interactions with others, children begin to shift their attention away from just themselves towards others.  They notice how they are similar and different and they become more concerned with how others are doing and feeling. This is a great time to foster this natural tendency and help them develop skills that will not only make them more open and kind, but also help them create more solid relationships down the line.

Why It’s Important

Young children learn from  adults in their lives and the skills they see modeled from them.. While schools do teach social-awareness, many of these skills are learned at home. Parents play a powerful role in helping their child develop strong social awareness by demonstrating empathy, open-mindedness, perspective taking, inclusion and promoting diversity.  This often happens in the way they interact with their children on a daily basis.

Research suggests that young people with strong social awareness skills:

  • make friends and new social connections more easily.
  • adapt more easily to new people and environments.
  • have fewer interpersonal conflicts and solve problems effectively when they arise. 
  • have fewer behavior-related issues at school.
  • are less prone to emotional distress.
  • are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as substance misuse

Check In:

There are many skills that children will acquire in school and at home that lead them to more social awareness.  Read through some of the most basic ways that children at this age demonstrate this skill.  If this does not feel like it describes your child, you can find ideas and resources below to help them develop these skills.  Remember that you may not see these happen all at once and that is okay.  In addition, your child may be able to do it in some situations and not others.  This is no need for concern.  In general, you are just looking for their ability to show that they are socially aware.

My child……

  1. can identify basic emotions in others and can make guesses for why they feel that way.
“I think the character in the book is frustrated because she is trying to do a project and it never turns out like she wants it to.”
  1. can see the impact their actions have on others.
“I know she is upset because I took that book out of her hand without asking.”
  1. enjoys playing with others and has different types of friends 
Finds ways to make friends with kids who are both similar and different from them
  1. shows empathy and compassion to others
“I am sorry that I hurt your feelings when I said I didn’t want to play with you.  That probably didn’t feel very good.”
  1. expresses gratitude
“I am thankful for my family, my warm house and the friends I have at school.”
  1. shows concern for others and how they are feeling
“I saw you fall down and I came over to see if you are okay.  Do you need a hug?”
  1. can take another’s perspective
“If I were Ansley and someone took that toy from me, I would be very angry.”

Connect & Communicate:

Learning about your child and their social awareness skills may be challenging now that they spend a majority of their time in school.   It takes some extra effort, but making the time to connect and to communicate with your child can help you gain a better sense of who they are and how you might support them.  Here are some tips for how to start:

  • Talk often and try to have frequent, meaningful conversations with them. 
  • Chat with your child specifically about friendships. Open a discussion about what they think makes someone a good friend and the difference between respectful and disrespectful communication. 
  • Take time to also observe their behavior when they  are socializing with others. Take opportunities to share and discuss what you notice.
  • Praise them when they show empathy or compassion towards others. Encourage them to do this if they don’t do it on their own.
  • Make gratitude a regular practice.  This can be before bed, at dinner or when you are getting ready to start the day.  Model this with them and encourage them to find something they are thankful for even on hard days. 

In addition to the ideas above, there are specific ways you can start conversations that promote social-awareness.  Check out the conversation starters below and see which ones you may want to begin with.

Conversation Starters:

  • Ask questions to help your child  develop an awareness of how others are feeling.  Ask, “How do you think __________ felt when …?” “How would you feel if that happened to you?”
  • Look for opportunities to model and cultivate empathy and compassion, for example, “Your sister seems upset. What do you think might help. . . ?“
  • Give your child opportunities to express their opinions on a variety of topics and issues. Ask questions to help them see other perspectives. “What do you think about …?” “How do you feel about …? Do you think most people would agree with you?”

It is also important to remember that children become aware of other people’s stereotypes, biases, and rejection due to race, gender, age, weight, and other factors, particularly when they experience the bias. Adults play an important role in helping them interpret these issues so that they do not internalize negative biases about themselves or others. As they begin to understand or experience biases, children may want to pull back from activities. 

Reinforcing the importance of positive relations across differences is often more effective than overly negative messages about discrimination and bias at this age. Help children learn to respect themselves and others. Talking with teachers and others about consistent and repeated messages about being respectful of all can help set a positive environment, as children are still very open to learning from adults.


Social-Awareness in General

PBS Video explaining social-awareness:  Note any ideas that you would like to try.

Song about Social Awareness:  Listen to this video/song with your child and talk about what it means and examples of when and how they can do it.

Books about Social Awareness:  Find some at your local library and read and discuss them with your child.

Perspective Taking Practice (for older elementary school children)

Empathy, Compassion, Gratitude and Kindness

Video about Empathy for Kids:  Watch and discuss this with your child.

Work with Nonverbal Cues:  Talk about body language when you see a discussion happening at home, at school or in public.  Ask what they think the person was feeling or what the conversation was about.  This can help them identify emotions that are not expressed through words.  You can even do this through cartoons and movies.

Gratitude Jar:  Have a jar at home and have children write (or they say and you write) something they are thankful for each day.  Place the paper in the jar and at the end of the week (or month, or year) read through them.

(More) Gratitude Activities for Kids:

Random Acts of Kindness:  Take time to do acts of kindness for others regularly.  Children can identify someone who is sick, upset, or in need of some cheering up and together you can create a card, homemade gift or food to bring to that person.  This helps children learn to think about others. 

Books about Kindness:

Honoring Similarities and Differences

Books about Diversity:  Find one of these books at your local library and read them to your child.

Discussion about similarities:  When reading a book, watching a movie or after hanging out with friends talk about what makes the characters similar and different to your child.  Emphasize how special it is to be different, while also discussing what is nice about having things in common.

Discussion about what’s important to them (values):  Oftentimes children have big feelings because events are related to things that are important to them.  After processing a feeling with them, talk about what value that might be connected to.  For example, if they get upset because a friend played with a “special toy,” you can talk about respect and how they value taking good care of their things.

Contact & Collaborate:

Your child’s school along with local community organizations and other parents are great places to connect with for additional ways to support your child’s social awareness skills.

  • Find out how/whether your child’s school specifically addresses social skills and supports the development of students’ social awareness. Ask whether they offer any curriculum or programming specific to social emotional learning, diversity awareness. These types of programs may be offered as extracurriculars or after school programs  and may be called “soft skills,” or “leadership skills.” 
  • Work with other parents and the school to bring in speakers from the community and create events that promote diversity
  • Visit museums, cultural organizations and festivals that promote diversity and cultural awareness.
  • Check out the extracurricular clubs and activities available at your child’s school.  
  • Learn what your local community has to offer in terms of youth organizations and community service opportunities. National non-profit organizations like Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, and Girls on the Run, as well as local youth-serving nonprofits can be helpful resources.
  • Join a local parent group either at the school or on social media.

Continue Learning:

Explore these resources for more ideas on how to support your child’s  development of social awareness.

Search Institute’s Keep Connected Parenting Site:

Child Mind Institute Tips for teaching social skills at home

Playworks (website) How to Teach Social Awareness and Perspective Taking at Home books%20with%20your%20 kids,made%20you%20feel%20that%20way

Kindergarten Social Awareness Skills (article):

How to Help Social Skills in Kids with ADHD (article):

Social Skills for Autistic Children (article):

ADDitutde (webinar and podcast):  Social Skills Strategies for Children with ADHD or Autism

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