Teaching children self-awareness
Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships with good judgment and empathetically. We do everything in life to feel a certain and when we are feeling the way we desire, it appears life is going well. However, when the feelings are not as we wish, and we do not have the understanding of how to change these feelings or to put them into perspective, this can result in anxiety and even depression,
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1 in 4 adolescents have a mental illness and 1 in 7 primary school children have a mental illness. The most common mental illness is anxiety – a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. According to Mission Australia who releases an annual youth survey, coping with stress, school or study problems and body image were the TOP 3 personal concerns of young people. This survey also revealed most young people turned to friends first for help but this we very closely followed by parents.
In this survey – MENTAL HEALTH ranked as the MOST important issue in Australia today for young people, with 33.7% ranking this the highest. This is up from 14.9% since 2015.
Mental health is about your emotional well-being and that involves understanding your emotions, how to express them, handling relationships and having empathy. From these statistics alone, as a nation, we need to start teaching our children how to recognise and have the skills to work through emotions and develop a strong emotional intelligence. The foundation of this is with self-awareness.
Self-awareness is part of mindfulness
Mindfulness is a popular buzzword but it forms part of being self-aware. Mindfulness is consciously being aware of the present moment, acknowledging feelings and thoughts in a non-judgmental way. The present moment helps cultivate self-awareness. It is a struggle to feel empathy if you do not understand your own emotions. You can’t handle rising anger unless you’re aware of it coming and why. When children are taught how to be self-aware, to become more mindful, and how to cope with strong emotions, this actually changes the structure of the brain, forming neural pathways that can remain for life. These pathways are like in-built guides children can continually access when the need arises.
What can parents do to help build self-awareness in their children?
#1 – Be a gifted emotional teacher. Research has shown having emotionally intelligent parents benefits the child in the present and how they will ultimately handle their own emotions. As a teacher, you need to also have the skills of self-awareness in order to teach it. Encourage your child to speak openly about issues and listen without judgment. Don’t dismiss their concerns as trivial or go completely in the opposite direction and leave the child to handle the emotional storm on their terms. Handling emotions is difficult, especially for children who have never been taught how.
#2 – Point out the positives. Children can be quick to point out what is going wrong, focusing on the negative in the situation. Children know what they perceive to be their weaknesses and this is often the area they cannot work through. As your child’s emotional teacher, point out the positives and how together you can use these to find the solution. Many children, especially teens have an ‘all or nothing’ belief but a small progress in a positive direction is going to a ripple effect.
#3 – Share a different perspective. Everyone has the lens they look through life with. This lens often gets clouded when we are under emotional stress. Before you share a new perspective, empathise with the current situation – truly change your own perspective and know how they are feeling. This builds trust between child and parent and allows for a non-judgmental response. It is easier said than done, especially for parents who are not skilled with emotional awareness themselves. If you are constantly blaming other people for how you feel, living with a victim mentality or allowing strong outburst regularly, you probably need to work on yourself first.
#4 – Avoid comparisons. In the modern world, a comparison is one of the easiest things to do. Not only is there comparisons between siblings but with social media, comparisons occur with friends, non-friends and the rest of the world – and very easily. When you child is comparing themselves to someone else, point out their strengths and how by focusing on their strengths, they can begin to achieve their own path to success. It’s a skill to distinguish between a simple comment and a deep-rooted negative comparison that may be causing emotional discomfort.
Like any new skill you want to master, teaching your child self-awareness takes practice and patience. If you would like to know more about teaching your child greater emotional intelligence and to build a strong mental health, contact Natalie on email@example.com
How do you – as a parent – practice your own self-awareness?