Pre-K self-awareness tips: Here's how to help your child

Here's how you can help your preschooler become more self-aware.
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By Jamie Farnsworth Finn

Want to help your preschooler develop their self-awareness skills? Here are some basic tips that experts suggest.

Take time to talk about feelings with your child every day

It can be something you work into a bus, car, or train ride with your child. Ask what your child feels like today, and tell them how you are feeling. Maybe you feel excited to have a day off to spend together, or you’re nervous about a new job. Just by talking about emotions with your child from an early age you can help them identify those feelings in themselves and make them feel comfortable talking about feelings. New York City-based teacher Anne Morrison suggests creating a sign or poster with your child with a choice of faces, like angry, happy, sad and calm. Your child can point to the poster when talking about how they're feeling for extra practice identifying feelings.

Help your child learn new words for feelings

For example, read a book like "Llama Llama Mad at Mama," by Anna Dewdney, with your child. Use the book to introduce new words like "frustrated," "bored," or "angry" when talking with your child about how the baby llama feels while grocery shopping. When reading with your child, try to remember to point out how the pictures show feelings you’re talking about. This can help your child learn new words for feelings and connect them with expressions and body language. The llama’s tantrum also shows your child that actions are caused by feelings, something you can point out to your child as you read the story.

Don't worry about using words for feelings that your child may not understand

Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab Director Maurice Elias says that hearing you talk about times you are excited, proud, disappointed or frustrated will help your child learn how to connect feelings with words. By the time your child starts school, they should be able to speak about their feelings with more words than sad, mad, or happy.

Let your kids know their feelings are important

It can be tempting to tell your child to “stop overreacting” or “stop getting upset” when they get frustrated over something that seems small to you -- like struggling with a toy or puzzle. Treating your child’s feelings like they’re not important can make them feel bad about their emotions or their reactions. Instead, validate their feelings by saying something like, “It can be frustrating when that toy falls apart, can’t it? I get frustrated sometimes too. Let’s see if we can fix it together.” This will help your child learn that their feelings matter and that you’re there to help.

Take some time to talk about how you are feeling during the day

Tom Hoerr, who is emeritus head of School at New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, suggests finding opportunities to reflect on your day and describe how you felt to your child. It could be while you’re brushing your teeth, or tucking your child in at night. Perhaps you were happy when an old friend sent an email, or upset by a customer at work. Using time to reflect and explain to your child your thoughts and actions allows your child to see how other people feel as well.

Teach your child it's O.K. to ask for help

Part of self-awareness is knowing your challenges, and asking for help when it’s needed is showing self-awareness. Author and education consultant Faye de Muyshondt recommends telling your child, “If you need help, say, ‘Help,’ and I’ll be there to jump in,” but until your child asks, try to stand back. The lesson is in struggling and understanding when to seek assistance.

To learn more about self-awareness for your preschooler, check out our pre-K self-awareness 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; Thomas Hoerr, Emeritus Head of School, New City School; and Faye de Muyshondt, Author and Education Consultant.