Want to help your sixth-grader with their self-awareness skills? Here are some tips that experts suggest.
Try to talk with your child about his feelings regularly
It may be hard at this age to engage your child in a long discussion about emotions, but taking a couple of minutes a day to ask “What made you feel good today?” or “Did anything upset you today?” is a great way to show you care. Try to avoid questions that will get a “yes” or “no” answer to create more conversation. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam suggests also talking about your own feelings. For example, “I’m really stressed out about this deadline at work” or “I’m really excited to spend time with the family this weekend.” Even if there isn’t always a discussion started, simply by providing daily interactions around their emotions you’re creating an environment where your child knows your child can talk to you. This will make him more likely to talk to you when they are ready to, or really needs to.
Be careful not to tell your child how he feels
Director of Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Lab Maurice Elias says that it’s better to say what you see. For example, “It looks like you are feeling conflicted about going to that party, because you are not acting as excited as you usually do,” or “You say you are not nervous about the test, but you are very fidgety when you are trying to sit down and study.” By saying what you see, you signal to them how they look and it gives them a chance to correct you, explain, or perhaps deny what you said, but still have that feedback. This is different from saying, “You don’t really want to go to that party, do you?” or “I can’t believe you aren’t nervous about that test.”
Make sure your child has other trusted adults she can turn to
During adolescence, children often pull away from their parents, and they may not discuss important topics as much. Try not to take it personally, and point to other trusted adults your child can talk to about concerns, dreams or friendships. A close family friend, cousin, grandparent, aunt, teacher or school counselor could be an adult your child could turn to. Take the time to get to know the adults with whom your child is interacting to make sure they are safe mentors for them.
Be supportive of your child
Many children entering adolescence are more self-conscious than when they were younger, as their bodies are changing and they experience more social pressure. Let your sixth-grader know you’re always there to listen and, if they ask for it, offer advice. Try sharing stories of embarrassing times you had growing up, and encourage older siblings or family members to share as well. Having the reassurance of a supportive and empathetic parent can help them through feelings of self-doubt and self-consciousness.
Encourage your child to explore his strengths
Even if your child excels in an area that might not be popular, like a certain sport, playing a certain instrument, or joining certain clubs, their ability to recognize their strength and value in an unpopular area is self-awareness. Acting upon that strength and developing it further is a way to really show self-awareness, especially at this age when peer acceptance and pressure is so prevalent. Tom Hoerr, who is Head of School at New City School in St. Louis, recommends praising their effort, energy, and participation instead of focusing on the final outcome.
Look for opportunities to just listen
Education consultant Jennifer Miller notes that children may not confide in you at convenient times or when you ask them direct questions. However, if you create a trusting and open listening environment, they will be more likely to open up to you when they are ready. At those times, listen actively and ask questions. Try not to offer solutions to problems immediately. Instead, discuss the problem and allow them the chance to think for themselves about their own issues.
To learn more about self-awareness for your child, check out our sixth-grade self-awareness page.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Thomas Hoerr, Emeritus Head of School, New City School; Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab; and Anne Morrison, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Lycée Français de New York.