What is self awareness?
One of the ten core life skills is self awareness. Being aware of one’s own strengths and shortcomings is necessary for self-improvement. How do we help our children achieve this? I think the first and foremost thing is to create an environment at home where children can share their thoughts freely. We need to respect children as a distinct individual who have a mind of their own. Giving a patient hearing to them is important to understand what is brewing in their minds. A discussion thereafter will be fruitful to gauge their strengths, weaknesses and thereby guide them in the right direction.
Sometimes we reprimand and compare our child to others. I have heard parents saying things like “he is only five years and reads so well. Look at you, at eight years you are struggling to read this simple book. ”A statement like this can only further shatter the self confidence of a child.
A famous Buddhist principle of ‘cherry, plum, peach and damson’ explained by Daisaku Ikeda is as follows – “Just as cherry, plum, peach and damson blossoms all possess their unique qualities, each person is unique. We cannot become someone else. There is no point or purpose in a plum trying to be a cherry. The plum should bloom like a plum, revealing its unique potential to the very fullest. “ – Discussions on Youth, Vol 2
Adults need to realize that each child has a distinct personality. It is as futile to compare one child to another as it is to compare a plum to a peach as each one has its distinct flavor. Appreciating their strengths and encouraging them to improve their shortcomings is a better way to tackle this.
We often feel that our child needs to improve but deeper introspection will help us realize that it is us who need to change our outlook towards them. Our role is to provide children the right kind of environment that can spur their growth.
Another point to reflect upon is that a child mirrors adult behaviour. So to raise well rounded, empathetic children we need to demonstrate in action and lead by example. While it is important to repeat phrases like ‘Be kind and compassionate towards others’ that alone will not suffice. This needs to be backed by action. Children need to see their parents and teachers display the exact behaviour expected out of them.
4 activities to build self awareness in children
The early years of a child’s life has a far greater contribution than we think to the overall development of a child. Let’s look at some of the simple activities that we can engage in with our child at home:
- Meditation and exercise – We are alive because we breathe. Just being aware of our breath is the first step to self awareness. Children can be encouraged to sit and focus on their breath. The rhythm of breathing in and out without even realizing that we are doing this every single moment while we are alive. Gradually they can be encouraged to observe their thoughts. Exercise in any form on a regular basis.
- Watering plants / Gardening – Since the pandemic struck, outdoor activities are almost negligible. In such a scenario, gardening, tending to plants can be extremely calming for children and adults alike. Through the activity awareness can be drawn to the inter connectedness of our life and the environment. Our happiness to a large extent depends on the well being of our environment. This activity can help children develop patience as well.
- Play Pollyanna’s glad game – Pollyanna’s ‘glad game’ is a game played by the character Pollyanna in the novel called Pollyanna. The objective of the game is to find one thing to be happy about even in a situation that is not ideal. A situation might look completely grim but if we think hard enough there is something always to be ‘glad’ about. This game is sure to spread good cheer and help children appreciate the attitude of gratitude.
- Building empathy – one of the best ways to do this is to put ourselves in the shoes of another person. Through this perspective shift, a great deal can be discussed and shared with children from early on.
The need to build self-awareness & empathy
We live in a highly competitive world today where moral values are disintegrating rapidly. One reason for this is that more and more families are breaking down to a nuclear setup. Children are growing up with lesser opportunities to explore interpersonal relationships at home, all of it leading to stress and inability to cope with emotions. Mental health disorders and obesity in children are on the rise. The pandemic has only added to all of these existing problems.
Technology has been a boon but also aggravated many issues. It has helped us connect with people far away but widened the gap between family members living within the same house. Whatsapp images of family members sitting together for a meal while each one is engaged on their phones is the sad reality of today’s society. We need to wait and watch to see which way this trend goes in the years to come.
Children are losing focus and have shorter attention spans. In the current milieu there needs to be a change in the way children are taught. We as parents, teachers and educators need to build a fun filled environment conducive for learning using storytelling as an effective tool of communication. That is where life skills education in early years plays an important part.
Even the government recognizes the need to include it in foundational stage school curriculum.
Can a life skill be taught?
The answer is a yes and a no. I say a no because finally it is up to the individual concerned; and a yes because the environment greatly influences a person’s mind, behaviour and actions.