Becoming an Outside Observer (Unleashing Resilience, Part 2)

In the journey of building resilience, we arrive at the second important skill for mentalizing: “Becoming an Outside Observer” of their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Here, we delve into the art of viewing oneself from an objective standpoint.

Becoming an outside observer of one’s thoughts and emotions is a profound and essential aspect of increasing resilience and also supports the skill of increasing awareness. Being an outside observer entails viewing oneself from a distance as if observing from the outside.

Imagine having the ability to step back from the whirlwind of emotions and thought patterns, to view them with detachment, as if observing a scene unfold from a distance. This unique perspective serves as a window to self-discovery for children and teens, offering valuable insights into their inner world. This perspective allows them to gain a more objective view of their thoughts, emotions, and actions, reducing the influence of biases, personal judgments, and ingrained reactions.

The practice of becoming an outside observer holds immense significance in nurturing emotional intelligence and the strength to navigate challenges with composure. By becoming an outside observer, children and teens can make informed choices, rooted in wisdom and self-awareness. As we explore this empowering perspective, we embrace resilience as a lifelong companion, guiding us through life’s twists and turns. Let’s explore this concept further, with specific examples of how to implement it in daily life.

The Power of Becoming an Outside Observer

The power of becoming an outside observer cannot be emphasized enough. There are a multitude of benefits, including:

Breaking free from emotional reactivity

When young people become an outside observer, they create a space between themselves and their emotional reactions. This space allows them to respond thoughtfully rather than react impulsively. Instead of being carried away by the intensity of emotions, young minds can analyze their feelings objectively, gaining control over their responses in various situations.

Uncovering unconscious patterns

Often, children and teens are not fully aware of the thought patterns and beliefs guiding their actions. By becoming an outside observer, they can uncover hidden cognitive patterns and unconscious biases. This awareness opens the door to challenging and reframing limiting beliefs, empowering them to adopt more empowering mindsets.

Embracing emotional empathy

As outside observers of their emotions, children and tends can develop a compassionate understanding of themselves. This empathy extends beyond self-compassion to embrace empathy for others. Emotional empathy allows young minds to relate to the emotions of their peers, cultivating better communication and deeper connections.

Enhancing emotion regulation

When young individuals observe their emotions from a detached perspective, they can identify triggers that lead to specific emotional responses. This heightened emotional awareness lays the foundation for emotional regulation, helping them manage stress, anxiety, and difficult emotions more effectively.

Encouraging reflective thinking

As outside observers, young minds engage in reflective thinking. They contemplate their actions, emotions, and responses to various situations. This reflective practice allows for introspection and learning from experiences, nurturing personal growth and resilience.

Cultivating mindfulness and present-moment awareness

Becoming an outside observer is akin to practicing mindfulness, building on the skills of self-awareness. By being fully present and attentive to thoughts and emotions, children and teens can develop present-moment awareness. This mindfulness enhances focus, reduces anxiety, and fosters a deeper connection with themselves and their surroundings.

Encouraging reflective thinking

As outside observers, young minds engage in reflective thinking. They contemplate their actions, emotions, and responses to various situations. This reflective practice allows for introspection and learning from experiences, nurturing personal growth and resilience.

Empowering personal responsibility

The act of becoming an outside observer empowers children and teens to take personal responsibility for their thoughts and emotions. This sense of agency enables young minds to make intentional choices and drive their emotional well-being, fostering a greater sense of control over their lives.

Becoming an outside observer is a transformative journey that unlocks the door to self-discovery and emotional resilience. By cultivating this skill, children and teens embrace emotional empathy, uncover unconscious patterns, and enhance emotional regulation. They develop mindfulness, reflective thinking, and personal responsibility, all essential elements of emotional intelligence.

Fostering the Ability to Become an Outside Observer

Given the many benefits for children and teens, it is important that we help them become keen outside observers, equipping them with the tools to navigate life’s complexities with clarity, empathy, and unwavering strength.  

By using specific strategies tailored to their developmental needs and individual experiences, we can support young minds on their journey of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Here are some concrete and effective ways to empower children and teens to become outside observers. Some of these are similar to previous strategies for increasing self-awareness. If they have begun using those, encourage them to continue their practice.

Encouraging Emotional Vocabulary & Expression

Help young minds expand their emotional vocabulary. This is a critical skill for emotion regulation and building resilience. Provide emotion wheels or cards with various feelings and discuss what each emotion might look and feel like. Having a rich emotional vocabulary enables them to better identify and communicate their emotions.

Create a safe and supportive environment where children and teens feel comfortable expressing their emotions without judgment. Validate their feelings and normalize the experience of having emotions. This validation encourages emotional exploration and self-acceptance.

Consider art and other expressive activities to facilitate self-expression and emotional exploration. Drawing, painting, writing, or engaging in creative activities can help young minds express their thoughts and emotions in nonverbal ways.

Mastering the Art of Defusion

Defusion techniques are incredibly helpful in supporting children and teens in becoming outside observers of their thoughts and emotions. These strategies help them detach from unhelpful thoughts and develop a greater sense of self-awareness. Here are a few defusion strategies to empower young minds:

Thought bubbles. Encourage children and teens to visualize their thoughts as bubbles floating by in the sky. Teach them to observe their thoughts without getting entangled in them. This visualization allows them to view thoughts from a distance, becoming less attached to their content.

Silly voices. Have fun with defusion by asking young minds to say their negative thoughts in silly or exaggerated voices. This technique helps them see that thoughts are merely mental events, not objective truths.

Labeling thoughts. Teach children and teens to label their thoughts as “just thoughts” when they arise. This labeling helps them recognize that thoughts are temporary mental events that come and go. They can even name the story (e.g., “There is the “I suck at math story”).

Thanking the mind. Instruct young minds to thank their minds when they notice unhelpful or distressing thoughts. This gratitude practice shifts their relationship with their thoughts, allowing them to observe them with less emotional reactivity.

Leaves on a stream. Guide children and teens in imagining their thoughts as leaves floating on a stream. As thoughts come and go, they observe them without clinging to any particular leaf. This metaphor illustrates the transient nature of thoughts.

Mental weather.  Encourage children and teens to liken their thoughts to changing weather patterns. Some days may be stormy with negative thoughts, while other days are sunny with positive thoughts. This metaphor fosters a non-attached observation of thoughts.

Storytelling. Engage in storytelling where children and teens create characters representing their thoughts. By externalizing thoughts as characters, they can observe their thought processes from an objective viewpoint.

Thought defusion games. Design games or activities that involve playful defusion exercises. For example, “Thought Tug of War” where they playfully pull away from unhelpful thoughts, or “Defusion Bingo” with defusion techniques as bingo squares to practice.

Continue Increasing Self-Awareness

Continue to encourage children and teens to increase their self-awareness. Help them become experts in identifying their emotional triggers and patterns, challenging unhelpful thoughts, and celebrating their efforts and growth.

Other ideas include:

Detaching from the past and future. Resilience is about focusing on the present and moving forward despite past setbacks or difficulties. Teach kids and teens to recognize when their past experiences are influencing their current thoughts.

For instance: Sarah is nervous about presenting her school project because she stumbled during a previous presentation. As a parent or mentor, you can remind her to detach from that past experience and focus on the current opportunity to showcase her knowledge and growth.

Evaluating thoughts objectively. Once they adopt the outside observer stance, they can evaluate their thoughts and emotions objectively. Encourage them to question the validity of their beliefs and whether they serve them positively.

For example: Alex might be convinced that his friends won’t like him anymore if he doesn’t participate in a risky dare. As a caring adult, you can help him observe these thoughts and ask whether compromising his values for approval is truly worth it.

Examining reactions and behaviour. Being an outside observer also involves analyzing one’s reactions and behaviour in various situations. This introspection helps to understand emotional triggers and develop healthier responses.

To illustrate: Mia gets frustrated every time her little brother enters her room without asking. Guided by the outside observer approach, she might realize that her strong reaction stems from a desire for personal space. By recognizing this, she can calmly communicate her boundaries to her brother.

Encouraging positive self-reflection. By consistently adopting the outside observer mindset, kids and teens can celebrate their growth and successes. This practice fosters a positive self-image and builds self-esteem.

For instance: When James receives constructive feedback on his artwork, he can apply the outside observer’s perspective to see how far he’s come and appreciate the potential for further improvement, rather than feeling disheartened.

Practicing mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing, are instrumental in developing the outside observer approach. These techniques enable children and adolescents to observe their thoughts without judgment.

For example: During a mindfulness exercise, Max might notice his mind wandering to worry about an upcoming test. By using the outside observer technique, he can gently bring his focus back to the present moment and the soothing rhythm of his breath.

Teach mindfulness techniques like mindful breathing, body scans, and grounding exercises (see the previous article on Increasing Self-Awareness for other mindfulness ideas). Encourage children and teens to practice mindfulness regularly, especially during moments of heightened emotions or stress. Mindfulness cultivates present-moment awareness and non-reactive observation, laying the foundation for the outside observer mindset.

Reflective journaling. Encourage the use of reflective journaling as a tool for self-exploration. Provide prompts to guide their reflections, such as “Describe a recent challenging situation and your emotional response to it,” or “Identify three positive qualities you see in yourself.” Journaling offers a safe space for self-expression and facilitates self-awareness.

Model self-observation. Model the outside observer mindset in your interactions with children and teens. Share your own experiences of self-reflection and emotional awareness, demonstrating that self-observation is a lifelong skill for personal growth.

Teaching children and teens to become outside observers of their thoughts is a transformative gift. This skill empowers them to cultivate resilience, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness. Through regular practice and gentle guidance, they will embark on a journey of personal growth, becoming more confident, adaptable, and compassionate individuals. Remember, becoming an outside observer opens the door to a world of self-discovery and resilience!

And of course, there is always help to guide you on this journey!



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