how to teach self awareness to students

Teaching Self-Awareness to Students: 5 Effective Activities

Self-awareness is a vital skill for everyone, whether you’re a student, a parent, or an educator.

Social and emotional learning starts with self-awareness and then continues to teach and build this skill throughout a student’s journey.

The Positive Action program teaches self-awareness in unit 1, then continues to highlight it as an underlying philosophy throughout all of our material.

What is Self-Awareness?

Social-emotional self-awareness means having the ability to understand your thoughts, emotions, and values, as well as knowing how those factors influence your behavior. Added to this understanding is the capacity to open-mindedly and realistically assess your strengths and weaknesses while maintaining your confidence, drive, and desire to grow.

The World Health Organization recognizes self-awareness as one of ten life skills that promote well-being across all cultures. The other skills include:

  • Empathy
  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Responsible decision-making
  • Problem-solving
  • Effective communication
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Coping with stress
  • Coping with emotions

To be self-aware is to follow the first Delphic maxim of ancient Greece: “know thyself.”

Teaching Self-Awareness

Learning to be self-aware isn’t easy, even for adults, which can make teaching self-awareness to students daunting.

Some teachers might also wonder when redirecting students, is this self-awareness or self-efficacy? Teaching self-efficacy is, in a way, part of teaching self-awareness in the classroom.

To be self-aware, you must be able to:

  1. Identify your emotions. Your students need to be able to identify their feelings. Learning the difference between frustration and anger will help students navigate their emotions. By recognizing the link between their feelings, thoughts, and actions, they can then address these feelings and react to them appropriately.

  2. See yourself honestly. Teaching your students to look at themselves honestly can help them respond to compliments, feedback, and criticism openly and earnestly. This sense of self will teach them to see and acknowledge both the positive and negative things in their nature.

  3. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Your students’ ability to see themselves, acknowledge their shortcomings, and embrace their strengths is a great confidence booster. Knowing that it’s okay to admit they’re wrong or don’t understand something sets them up for growth. Acknowledging aptitude also builds confidence.

  4. Work toward growth. All of these skills lead students to self-efficacy. They understand that self-work and growth are positive activities that result in healthy, happy people with a drive to achieve.

5 Activities and Strategies for Teaching Students to be Self Aware

Here are some ideas for how to develop self-awareness in students.

  1. Positive Awareness. Have students write a list of the things they like about themselves. If they need a nudge, suggest something like “I am cheerful,” or “I am creative.” Encourage older students to dig a little deeper. Students should put this list in a place where they’ll often see it to reinforce the positives they see in themselves.

  2. Discuss the Thoughts-Actions-Feelings Circle. Unique to Positive Action, the thoughts-actions-feelings circle is integral to our SEL curriculum. It depicts how thoughts lead to actions and actions to feelings, which lead once again to thoughts. Describe situations your students might find themselves in. Discuss how those situations might make them feel, how and what they might think, and how they might act based on those thoughts and feelings.

  3. Keep an Emotion Journal. As students learn to identify and label their feelings, ask them to keep an emotion journal. For younger students, this may mean pasting emoji faces, while for older students, it might be a digital journal. Taking the time for a daily “emotional assessment” allows your students to understand and explore their emotions.

  4. Establish and Work Toward Goals. Meeting self-awareness goals and objectives gives students successes to celebrate, fortifying their belief in themselves. Ask students to set a realistic goal and write down steps they can take to meet those goals. You might even consider making a class goal for students to strive for as the year progresses.

  5. Use Your Strengths. Help students to identify their strengths. The act of identifying things that your students are good at reinforces a positive self-image. Working to improve their strengths builds confidence, setting them up for success.

The Importance of a Healthy Self-Awareness

Having a healthy self-awareness promotes emotional wellness and self-esteem. It provides students insight into who they are, why they react as they do, and gives them a direction for self-improvement. Self-awareness for students is crucial for success. Self-aware people have a fundamental belief in their ability to achieve a goal, and this trait helps students thrive in everything they do.

When Does a Child Become Self-Aware?

Children can become aware younger than you might think. Typically after the age of five, they’ll begin identifying their emotions. Until then, they don’t understand what they’re feeling, or that other people have feelings separate from their own.

Recognizing their emotions and the emotions of others is the first step of becoming self-aware.

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