How to Teach Self-Awareness Skills to Children
Updated: Sep 30
At the beginning of the school year, I always start off the year with self-awareness activities, which is one of CASEL's social-emotional learning competencies. Self-awareness activities are great because it not only allows the students to get to know themselves, but it's also a wonderful way to build rapport and relationships, and for me to get to know the students as well.
We always start with self-awareness because before we can work on social awareness and social skills, we need to know who we are first. We need to know how to identify our cultural identities, our emotions, our interests and dislikes, and our sense of purpose.
What is self-awareness and why is it important?
CASEL's first social-emotional learning competency is self-awareness. But what is self-awareness, why is it important, and how can we teach it to our students and children? The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, lists five core competencies for promoting healthy emotional learning and development in K-12 students - the first of which is self-awareness.
Let’s explore CASEL’s framework, self-awareness, and discover how we can inspire self-awareness in our students and children.
What is CASEL?
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a trusted resource for evidence-based social-emotional learning (SEL) research and practices. They maintain school district partnerships, support pre K-12 SEL policies and guidelines on a state-wide level, and they even educate policymakers about the importance of SEL.
Okay, but what exactly is SEL anyway?
If you’re an educator, you know we use a lot of acronyms and you’ve likely heard of the term SEL. It’s been a hot topic in the K-12 world for several years now. SEL is a vital component of human education and development. CASEL defines SEL as the "process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to:
develop healthy identities
achieve personal and collective goals
feel and show empathy for others
establish and maintain supportive relationships
make responsible and caring decisions" (n.d.)
Although SEL has been a hot topic in recent years, it is not a new topic. The SEL framework was born from the idea that non-cognitive skills are just as important, if not more important, than cognitive skills when it comes to life success (Ross & Tolan, 2018).
Since the conception of social emotional learning, concerns began to grow over whether schools were adequately addressing all of the unique social development needs of students. As more and more studies support the importance of social and emotional functioning in long-term success, CASEL developed their five-factor SEL model based on these studies of development and interventions to increase social and personal skills (Ross & Tolan, 2018).
What is self-awareness?
CASEL defines self-awareness as “the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts" (n.d.) Self-awareness is at the core of developing healthy self-esteem and identifying one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness influences so many aspects of a young person’s life.
Why is it important to teach self-awareness to children?
As I've mentioned, self-awareness is a component of children’s and young adults’ self-esteem. But why else is it important to teach children self-awareness? Well, self-awareness is also responsible for:
Uniting social and personal identities
Recognizing personal and cultural values
Identifying individual emotions
Identifying the link between feelings, values, and thoughts
Recognizing and critically evaluating prejudices and biases
Believing in one’s own abilities
Acquiring a growth mindset
Developing one’s own unique interests
Discovering a sense of purpose (CASEL, n.d.)
Several studies have also illustrated the positive effects of social emotional learning on academic outcomes. In a meta-analysis of over 207,000 students in K-12th grade, researchers discovered an average increase of 11% on standardized test scores for students that participated in school-based SEL programs (Ross & Tolan, 2018).
One particular study also found that emphasis on self-awareness through SEL interventions resulted in less depressive symptoms and delinquency and more positive grades (Ross & Tolan, 2018).
How does self-awareness affect relationship-building?
While CASEL delineates self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship building as separate competencies, each is also interconnected. Let’s think about it - one of the most, if not the most, important relationship we build is with ourselves.
When children become self-aware, they become aware of their strengths, unique interests, and their self-esteem can be increased. They become more aware of their thoughts and feelings and their emotional identification and regulation skills are increased as well. Self-esteem plays a critical part in building healthy relationships with others and reduces the risk for codependent and/or negative peer relationships. Further, emotional identification and regulation contribute to healthy communication which is important for successful friendships and other social relationships.
The more a child knows about themselves, their interests, their culture, and their own biases, the better they are able to relate to the world around them and connect with like-minded individuals. As with the four other core competencies, self-awareness is critical for healthy social and emotional development.
How do we help children build self-awareness?
Now that we understand the importance of building self-awareness in children, let’s talk about the ways that we can implement this core SEL standard in our students’ learning.
In the classroom:
Teachers can promote self-awareness in the classroom by explicitly teaching lessons on social and emotional skills and attitudes. Teachers can also model self-awareness and find ways to integrate this competency across all other subjects, be it language arts, math, science, social studies, health, or the performing arts.
Lessons might help children explore their family's cultural heritage by building a family tree, interviewing a family member about their family history, researching a flag, or language, exploring the story of their name by creating a word cloud etc.
Activities to help children learn to name their emotions, such as with my feelings poke card set which is a fun hands-on way to work on identifying feelings
Reinforcing positive behavior observed such as when honesty and integrity are displayed in the classroom
Having students learn about values, identify their own values by creating a values board, writing, or drawing about their values
Teaching children the link between their thoughts, feelings, and choices such as with my book Skills for Big Feelings, or this Thoughts, Feelings, and Choices Social Story Workbook or this Catch it, Check it, Change it CBT Football Board Game
Helping kids identify and examinee prejudices and biases
Teaching about and reinforcing having a growth mindset
Helping kids identify their unique personal interests, likes, and dislikes through the use of art projects such as collages, posters, shields, flags, and mask making
Building a healthy culture at school is important for so many reasons. In order for SEL to be successfully implemented in a school, each individual in the building needs to feel respected, supported, and dedicated to the overall success of all students and staff. Further, each student needs to feel a sense of belonging in the school community.
Families and caregivers can also model self-awareness for their children by practicing emotional identification, healthy communication, having a growth mindset, and identifying their own strengths and weaknesses. After all, families are a child’s first teachers.
Families and caregivers can also offer teachers and school staff unique and in-depth insight into a child’s development, experiences, culture, and needs, further informing SEL practices.
In the community:
Community partnerships extend learning beyond the classroom and home, offering special settings for continued learning and exploration. Community resources can provide families and students with additional support as well as offer young people opportunities to put their SEL skills to practice.
Beginning of the Year Getting to Know You Self-Awareness Activities and Interventions
The beginning of the school year is coming on us fast. What better way to kick off a new school year than to teach students the importance of self-awareness. Below are a list of free ideas and resources to implement self-awareness lessons into the classroom.
First, I've got this awesome 2-page getting to know you self-awareness freebie for you!!
Just scroll to the top of this page to subscribe to gain access to this freebie and my whole free SEL resource library!
And here are some other self-awareness resources for you to check out:
Nebraska Department of Education Free Self-Awareness Lesson Plans: If you’d like to teach your students a lesson explicitly on self-awareness but are unsure of where to start, the Nebraska Department of Education offers a range of free lesson plans on the topic for students in grades K - 12. Several activities include matching careers to college and career ready behaviors, resolving conflicts, creating a career plan poster, and identifying short-term and long-term goals by building a personal roadmap
Free Myers-Briggs Personality Test: This is an activity that’s likely more suited for middle school to high school age students, however, it’s a great opportunity to inspire self-introspection. Students must self-report their personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses as they answer test questions. The 16 Personalities Test is 100% free and the results even suggest career fields that your personality type would be well suited for, which is perfect for career exploration in high school students. As always, you might want to check in with your school's privacy policiess and laws before having students enter in any of their confidential information, such as their email address.
Emotional Journaling: This is an easy and free way to implement social-awareness in your classroom or in your home. Encourage students to take an inventory of their emotions each day. For young children, this could be as simple as selecting emojis to represent their feelings. You can also present writing prompts for each day to inspire self-exploration such as, who is your best friend and why? What was the happiest day of your life? What do you like and dislike about yourself?
I hope you’ve learned a little more about self-awareness and how to teach it in your classroom, at school, at home, and within your community. I'm wishing you a wonderful school year filled with social-emotional growth and mental wellness!
CASEL. (n.d.) CASEL SEL Framework. CASEL. https://casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/CASEL-SEL-Framework-11.2020.pdf
CASEL. (n.d.) SEL is... What is SEL. CASEL. https://casel.org/what-is-sel/
Ross, K. M., & Tolan, P. (2018). Social and emotional learning in adolescence: testing the
CASEL model in a normative sample. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 38(8),