How to teach your kids self-awareness so they understand themselves better, and know the impact they are having on others.
This blog adds to 20 Ways to Rock at Being a Mother No. 5: Be Self-Aware, which outlines your personal benefits of self-awareness, and how you can increase that quality in a personal sense.
What is Self-Awareness?
You, like everyone, have an understanding of who you are at some level. This is a growing awareness of course, which develops as you grow up. When you were a newborn baby, the whole world was centred around you. And in the early stages the only way you could communicate was to cry! You cried when hungry, when tired, when uncomfortable and when in pain. Not only that, as a baby, you had no idea about the impact you had on everyone else. You woke your mother at 3am because of hunger. And she knew it was normal, because babies have a complete lack of self-awareness.
Compare you as a baby with you as a functional adult, and there is a very marked difference. As an adult, you have many ways to communicate your needs. And crying, if used at all, will be very low on the list. Not only do you know how you are feeling about yourself and express it, you are also aware of the impact you have on those around you. You can choose when to communicate and make appropriate decisions. So, for you to wake someone else up at 3am because of hunger is unheard of.
Seeing the Big Picture to Teach Your Kids Self-awareness
That process, from baby to adult, could be described the “project” every parent undertakes. Describing motherhood as a project is one way of taking a step back, to see your job as a mother over the long-term. And it’s often a helpful way to view what you do.
So, in addition to teaching your child to eat solid food, to talk, and to wake up for school, one of your jobs as a mother is to teach your kids self-awareness. As you intentionally take this on, your children will be better prepared to face the world as young adults.
In fact, you already know this. Because your mother (or someone) taught you all these things. Even if you have no memory of your baby and toddlerhood, the fact your mother cared for you, means you were on the receiving end. For years. That was your training ground.
But what if your own training was dysfunctional? What if you received little or no parenting yourself? And while you may now be very self-aware, how do you teach your kids self-awareness when you don’t really remember it; or perhaps no one taught you, you just worked it out for yourself?
The Consequence of Poor or Non-Existent Parenting
It was a sobering moment when I was in Cambodia recently with a Samaritan’s Purse team. I saw first-hand the impact the Pol Pot regime (1960s-1990s) had on the parenting ability of many 21st Century mothers. Sadly, many rural mothers in Cambodia allow their children, sometimes as young as three or four, to fend for themselves! It’s astounding, but these Khmer women require specialised training from NGO’s to teach them how to care for their kids.
This is because during that horrific period a generation ago, thousands of children were suddenly homeless, without adults to parent them. Today’s Khmer mothers are just intuitively caring for children up to the age they themselves received care.
My Cambodian experience made me realise how much you learn as you grow up, without even knowing.
Teach Your Kids Self-awareness – Feedback
Another angle of this self-awareness conundrum is the importance of someone, usually your mother, giving you feedback about what you do.
This is a huge factor that went missing in Cambodia. How did you learn to eat food without making a mess? How to speak? To clean your teeth and wash your face? Wear clean clothes? Good sleep habits? These are obvious things, but without your mother teaching you, they go missing.
The process of passing this information on is called “reflecting” a child’s behaviour to them. It’s about giving constant feedback, so he or she knows and understands how their behaviour impacts on themselves, and also on others.
Feedback Makes All the Difference!
When this aspect of motherhood goes missing in a place like Cambodia, it’s clear what happens. But what’s it like in the Western world? What do you as a mother do to make so much difference?
As a toddler, one of my daughters would get extremely cross and grumpy if she missed a good night’s sleep. Sometimes it was a few days before she was back to normal. When she was old enough to talk about it, we started to discuss what was happening. As I fedback to her what was going on, she became self-aware.
This continued as she grew older – and together we worked out strategies to help her manage less sleep as she moved into her teenage years. She now manages her own sleep patterns. She is also aware of the cost of not much sleep. But she has also learnt to manage her mood swings that come with that territory.
What Else do Kids Need Feedback On?
Reflecting behaviour happens all the time. It can apply to letting teenagers know their smelly socks are, well, smelly! That music practice, while important, is better done at family-friendly hours. And that the tone of voice used sends as much information – maybe more – than the words themselves. For example, think about the many different ways you can say, “I’m sorry”. You know how . . . the tone used can alter the meaning so much!
Here’s heads-up though, because it pays to be aware of the way you use your own tone of voice in giving feedback. This is because you really don’t want it to become a nagging mother. Whoever listens to you when you are nagging?
To Teach Your Kids Self-awareness it Comes Back to Relationship
A good relationship builds trust and a sense of safety. And when that happens, it’s possible to give feedback in a loving and helpful way, without criticism or judgement.
Here are some ways to develop a good relationship with your youngster:
- Hang out together – watching a movie, go to a big game, head to the great outdoors
- Enjoy one another’s company – cooking a meal together, getting to know their friends, talking in the car
- Do fun things and having fun together – birthdays are great opportunities for an excuse to have fun – from a special local playground, to a theme park, to whatever you like!
- Be creative in spending time with other family members – picnics, barbecues, trips to the beach or local nature park all add to the enjoyment of family and developing relationships
- And there are plenty more! There’s some more ideas on my “Children” board on Pinterest
Trust and Enjoyment
Creating good relationships with family members creates huge opportunities for one-on-one chats, as well as general family discussion of important values you hold, such as kindness, caring, forgiveness, patience and goodness. It’s in these contexts that trust is built. Hope is restored. Love is displayed. Life is enjoyed. Together.
At this point there is a significant shift and it is possible to teach your kids self-awareness without the angst. When your children trust you there is another whole dimension as you reflect their behaviour to them. It’s not nagging anymore. Instead, it’s working together on making life good for each other. And it gets another step closer to that overall goal of raising amazing adults.
But this can only happen if you yourself, are self-aware. Because part of the learning is knowing when you are in a good place to have those discussions. It’s knowing how to choose a time and place to teach your child to be self-aware by reflecting their behaviour. So if you haven’t had a chance to read Be Self-Aware yet, maybe now is the time!
Or else, moving right along to 20 Ways to Rack at Being a Mother No 6: Offering Forgiveness.
What did your mother, or significant adult in your life, give you feedback on? Did you find it helpful? Confronting? Is that the sort of feedback you want to give when you teach your kids self-awareness?