Daniel Povinelli, a professor at the University of Louisiana, showed 3-year-old Jennifer a video of herself with a sticker on her forehead. When he asked her to describe what she saw, she replied, “It’s Jennifer. It’s a sticker. But why is she wearing my shirt?”
Jennifer recognised the girl in the video as herself but still thought she was someone else. This happened because her self-awareness is not fully developed.
Beyond the ability to know oneself, self-awareness is being in tune with your feelings, thoughts, and actions – and recognising that what you do, how you think, and present yourself socially affects yourself and those around you.
Listed as one of the World Health Organisation’s 10 core life skills to impart to growing children, self-awareness is important for a child’s social emotional skills, positive social behaviour and academic performance.
What good is positive self-awareness?
1. Positive self-esteem
When children understand themselves better, it’s easier for them to build positive self-esteem. They are also able to self-monitor their actions and assess what’s working and what’s not working in a situation.
2. Positive self-reflection
Self-awareness also helps children reflect on their words and actions. This ability to think over things is important because it helps them develop ways to make things work better next time.
3. Positive social outcomes
Although it feels like an intuitive and “feeling” skill, self-awareness is a thinking skill, one that helps children accurately judge their own behaviour and respond appropriately to different social situations.
Photos taken in collaboration with Matthias Chong, featuring one of our ParentWise families
How can I build self-awareness in my child?
Self-awareness in children is developed in stages over time.
For example, a little girl may know that she is looking at her own reflection but not grasp that the image is what she looks like all the time.
An older child might recognise that she appears a certain way – the way she appears in the mirror – but may not fully comprehend that others also see her the same way.
You can help your children develop stronger emotional and physical self-awareness from birth by including activities in their daily routine.
1. Call them by their name
Children develop self-awareness and a deeper understanding of the world through interacting with you and learning about your feelings.
When you’re feeding, bathing or playing with your baby, talk about what you are doing and call them by their name. Calling your baby’s name helps them realise that they are unique and separate from the other people around them.
2. Express your own feelings
Help your baby learn about feelings by expressing your own feelings with your facial expressions, tone of voice and body language when you are interacting with them.
3. Express your baby’s feelings
You can also help your baby recognise their feelings by describing what you see by saying things such as, “You look so happy with that smile!”
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Self-awareness is important for a child’s social emotional skills, positive social behaviour and academic performance.
What about physical self-awareness?
Another important aspect of self-awareness is a physical self-awareness or body awareness.
1. Give baby space to move
To become aware of their own body, your baby needs to be able to tell that they have their own physical body that is separate from others.
During the first few months, provide a safe space for your baby to move when lying down so that they can discover their body. Give them something to reach out and hold or something they can swat with their hands and feet.
As the baby becomes more mobile, give them room to move around and play games that allow them to discover what their body can do.
2. Teach about the body through song
You can also sing songs about your baby’s body parts, naming and touching them as you sing.
3. Use the mirror
Another great way to help your baby develop physical self-awareness is to let them see their reflection in the mirror and play with that reflection.
The baby probably will not know that’s them in the mirror at first but it’s the first step to building that understanding.
Becoming self-aware helps your children thrive as they grow up into healthy individuals. Take time today to build your children’s self-awareness inside out
This article was first published on ParentWise. Developed by Temasek Foundation in partnership with SEED Institute (subsidiary of NTUC First Campus), ParentWise is a programme that offers curated evidence-based learning programmes and resources that parents and caregivers need to support their children. For more parenting tips and resources, please visit ParentWise at https://parentwise.sg/.