At this young age, your child may have a hard time saying exactly what they are feeling. They may be upset without quite having the vocabulary or the self-awareness to fully explain their emotions. Self-awareness is the ability to accurately recognize feelings and understand how they relate to behavior. For example, they may know what it feels like to be mad or sad, but not angry, embarrassed, ashamed, or disappointed. Or they may feel sad, but not know why. For younger children, this frustration can lead to crying or temper tantrums, and even physical aggression. That frustration comes from not yet having the proper way to express their emotions. As your child develops their self-awareness, they will learn to manage their behavior. Another part of self-awareness is your child’s ability to recognize their strengths and challenges, and to identify areas where they excel. At this age, these can be simple activities like riding a bike, coloring, counting to ten, or being a helper around the house by setting the table. If your child needs help with any of the examples above, asking for help is also part of self-awareness.
During these early elementary years, when children are in a formal school setting, they’re interacting with more peers and adults. This increased exposure to others begins to broaden their understanding of the world. Children at this age are developing the ability to identify their feelings and what causes them. They are also learning how to manage their emotions and behave appropriately. You can help your child develop their social and emotional skills. The concepts highlighted in this section are based on the five sets of competencies developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).
Your child should be able to identify basic emotions like sadness, happiness, and fear. Your child should be able to begin to describe and understand what causes these emotions. For example, if a sibling or friend doesn’t share a favorite toy or game, your child should be able to explain why this scenario made them feel mad. As your child’s self-awareness develops, your child will be able to distinguish between subtle emotions and evaluate their causes and consequences.
At this age, your child should also be able to identify what your child likes and dislikes, such as games your child likes to play and subjects that interest her, like English or art.
Keep in mind every child develops at his or her own pace. If you have concerns about your child’s development, please contact your healthcare provider or your child’s teacher or school counselor.
Learn more about how to support your child with our first-grade self-awareness tips page.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Anne Morrison, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Lycée Français de New York.