Welcome to a transformative four-part series, where we embark on a journey to unlock the power of resilience within children and teens. In this series we explore essential skills for mentalizing to foster emotional strength, adaptability, and well-being in kids and teens that will guide them through life’s challenges. Each skill is a stepping stone, building upon the last, empowering them to face life’s challenges with unwavering confidence and grace.
As adults in young people’s lives, we hold a profound responsibility to nurture their resilience. There are a myriad of skills that empower children and teens to face life’s challenges with strength and clarity. However, Increasing Self-Awareness stands as a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and resilience. This is our first stop on this path of mentalization, making it a foundational skill for personal growth and well-being.
By encouraging young minds to be mindful of their thoughts and self-talk in the present moment, we set the foundation for resilience. As we dive into the power of challenging negativity, embracing positivity, and understanding emotional landscapes, we plant seeds that will grow into self-discovery and emotional strength.
Increasing self-awareness is a vital aspect of building resilience. Doing so allows children and teens to gain insight into their thoughts, emotions, and reactions. Being conscious of their thinking processes and self-talk in the moment helps them develop an understanding of how their minds work.
Let’s explore specific skill-building activities that we can use to cultivate resilience in children and teens by increasing their self-awareness. As we go through each week, you will see an overlap, which will help support each step.
At the heart of increased self-awareness lies the ability to be present – fully engaged in the here and now, observing their thoughts and emotions with a non-judgmental stance. Mindfulness practices serve as an excellent starting point in building this essential skill. By cultivating the ability to be fully present in the moment, young minds gain clarity, emotional regulation, and a deeper connection with themselves and the world around them.
Mindfulness practice activates the prefrontal cortex, the brain region responsible for decision-making, problem-solving, and emotional regulation, strengthening the mental resilience necessary to navigate life’s challenges with composure. Regular mindfulness practice leads to reduced stress, improved focus, and enhanced emotional well-being, all essential elements of resilience.
There is a range of mindfulness practices we can introduce to empower young minds on their resilience journey. Choose one to start with that they will be most interested in trying to begin increasing self-awareness.
Mindful breathing. Introduce children and teens to mindful breathing exercises, allowing them to cultivate present-moment awareness. Simple yet powerful, this practice helps regulate emotions, reduce stress, and foster a deeper connection with one’s inner world.
Encourage children and teens to set aside a few minutes each day for a mindful breathing exercise. They can sit comfortably, close their eyes, and focus on their breath – the rise and fall of their chest or the sensation of air passing through their nostrils. This simple yet powerful practice enhances self-awareness and brings a sense of calmness to their minds.
Body scan. Guide children and teens through a body scan practice, where they focus on each part of their body sequentially, starting from the top of their head to the tips of their toes. Encourage them to notice any sensations or tension in each area and practice letting go of any physical discomfort. This exercise enhances body awareness and fosters relaxation.
Mindful eating. Encourage mindful eating during snack or mealtime. Encourage young individuals to savour each bite, paying attention to the taste, texture, and smell of the food. By focusing on the sensory experience of eating, they develop a deeper connection with their bodies and their relationship with food.
Mindful walking. Take the practice of mindfulness outdoors with mindful walking. Instruct children and teens to walk slowly, paying attention to each step, the sensation of their feet touching the ground, and the movement of their body. Engaging with the present moment through mindful walking connects them with the natural environment, fostering a sense of grounding and peace.
Five senses exercise. Lead them through a five senses exercise, where they identify and engage with something they can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. This activity strengthens present-moment awareness and encourages them to fully immerse themselves in their sensory experiences.
Loving-kindness meditation. Introduce loving-kindness meditation, where they extend positive and compassionate thoughts toward themselves and others. Encourage them to send well-wishes of love, kindness, and understanding to themselves, family members, friends, and even those they find challenging. This practice nurtures empathy and compassion, crucial qualities in developing resilience and positive relationships.
Mindful art. Encourage children and teens to engage in mindful art activities, such as colouring, drawing, or painting. While creating art, instruct them to focus on the strokes, colors, and shapes, allowing the process of creativity to become a meditative experience.
Mindsets play a pivotal role in shaping how individuals perceive and respond to life’s challenges. A fixed mindset and negative self-talk can undermine growth and resilience. On the other hand, a growth mindset, characterized by positivity and the belief in one’s ability to learn and adapt, serves as a powerful catalyst for personal development and resilience.
Increasing self-awareness is critical to shifting children’s and teens’ mindsets from limiting beliefs to empowering thoughts. There are many ways we can equip young minds with the ability to challenge negative, unhelpful thinking and embrace a more empowered mindset.
Recognizing thought patterns. Guide children and teens to pay attention to their thought patterns. Negative self-talk and limiting beliefs can create a self-imposed barrier to growth. Notice how often negative or self-critical thoughts creep in? For instance, if they make a mistake in school or sports, they might have thoughts like, “I’m terrible at this, I always mess up.”
Challenging negative self-talk. Once they become aware of negative self-talk, teach them to challenge these thoughts. For example, when they catch themselves thinking, “I’m terrible at this,” they can ask themselves, “Is that really true? When have I done well in this area?”
Replacing negative with more adaptive thinking. Help them understand that skills can be developed with effort and practice. By acknowledging limiting beliefs, we can help them replace them with growth-oriented thoughts to open the door to possibilities and resilience.
Help children and teens replace negative self-talk with more constructive, or even neutral, alternatives. For example, if they find themselves thinking, “I always mess up,” they can change it to, “Mistakes happen, and I can learn from them to improve.” If they think, “I’m terrible at math,” they can reframe it as, “Math challenges me, but I can learn and improve with practice.”
Encouraging a “Yet” Attitude. Teach young individuals the power of the word “yet.” When faced with a difficulty, instead of saying, “I can’t do it,” help them reframe it as “I can’t do it yet, but I’m learning.” This simple shift in language empowers them to view challenges as stepping stones on their journey of growth and resilience.
Cultivating a solution-focused mindset. Guide children and teens to approach problems with a solution-focused mindset. Rather than getting stuck in the problem, encourage them to explore possible solutions and take proactive steps toward resolution. Emphasize that setbacks are a natural part of life, and resilience lies in their ability to bounce back and find constructive solutions.
Gratitude journaling. Encourage young people to maintain a gratitude journal. Each day, they can write down things they are grateful for, fostering a positive outlook and heightened self-awareness of the good in their lives.
Learning from role models. Share stories of individuals who faced adversity and overcame challenges through a growth mindset. By learning about resilient role models, young minds gain inspiration and witness the power of positive thinking in action.
Creating a supportive environment. Foster a supportive environment where children and teens feel safe to share their thoughts and emotions. Encourage them to express their feelings and provide constructive feedback to help them reframe negative thoughts into empowering ones.
Enhancing Self-Observation Skills
The art of observing one’s thoughts and emotions with curiosity and kindness is a transformative skill that nurtures emotional intelligence and resilience. By cultivating self-observation, young minds gain deeper insights into their inner world, allowing them to recognize patterns, triggers, and areas for growth.
Emotion charting. Create an emotion chart with a range of emotions and ask children and teens to identify and mark how they feel throughout the day. This activity helps them recognize emotional patterns and understand the triggers behind certain emotions. Once they identify how they are feeling, have them notice where this feeling sits in their body the most. Have them describe the sensation. Check out this resource: Feelings and body outline to guide them.
Thought and emotion recording. Encourage young individuals to maintain a thought diary where they jot down significant thoughts and emotions, especially in challenging situations. This practice provides valuable insights into thought patterns and aids in developing self-awareness.
Role-playing scenarios. Engage in role-playing scenarios where they can practice being self-aware in challenging situations. This helps them develop the skill of observing their thoughts and emotions during real-life events.
Setting intentions. Teach them to set intentions for the day or specific situations. By doing so, they become more conscious of their thoughts and actions, making it easier to notice when they deviate from their intentions.
Recognizing Emotional Triggers
Recognizing emotional triggers is of paramount importance in increasing self-awareness as it unveils the intricate connections between external events and internal emotional responses. By identifying the specific stimuli that evoke emotional reactions, children and teens gain valuable insights into their emotional patterns. This heightened awareness enables them to respond to triggers with greater mindfulness and emotional regulation, fostering a deeper understanding of their emotional landscape. Recognizing emotional triggers empowers individuals to make conscious choices in how they navigate challenging situations, cultivate resilience, and make positive changes in their lives, ultimately leading to greater emotional intelligence and well-being.
Have discussions. Help them identify situations or people that trigger certain emotions. For instance, they may realize that they tend to feel anxious before taking a test or talking to a particular person. Share your own triggers to help normalize these experiences.
Reflective journaling. Encourage them to keep a journal where they can write down their thoughts and emotions regularly. Ensure they reflect on challenging situations and how they responded. What emotions surfaced? How did they handle the situation? Reflective journaling helps them understand their responses and the impact of their emotions on their actions.
Physical sensations: Pay attention to physical sensations in your body. Emotional triggers can often manifest as physical responses like a tightness in the chest, a lump in the throat, or a knot in the stomach. By tuning into these bodily signals, you can become aware of emotions that may be arising.
Patterns of reactivity. Encourage children and teens to observe their patterns of reactivity in different situations. Have them notice if they tend to react with anger, frustration, or sadness in specific circumstances.
Seeking feedback and support. Encourage them to seek feedback from trusted friends, family members, or teachers. Honest feedback can provide valuable insights into their behaviour and thinking. Additional support from a mental health professional can also help young people to uncover and address triggers in a safe and supportive environment.
Celebrating Positive Moments and Successes
Celebrating positive moments and successes is a powerful practice that nurtures resilience, boosts self-esteem, and enhances overall well-being. Acknowledging achievements, no matter how small, reinforces a positive mindset, fostering a sense of accomplishment and motivation to overcome challenges. For children and teens, this practice is particularly transformative, as it instills a growth-oriented perspective and the belief in their abilities to navigate life’s ups and downs. Encourage them to celebrate their growth, achievements, and positive moments, creating an environment that nurtures self-belief and empowers young minds to flourish.
Success jar or journal. Create a “Success Jar” or journal where children and teens can write down and store achievements, both big and small. Regularly revisit the jar to remind themselves of their growth and progress. This practice nurtures self-esteem and reinforces a positive self-perception.
“Success Wall” or “Hall of Fame.” Designate a space to showcase their achievements, such as a “Success Wall” or “Hall of Fame.” Display their artwork, projects, and accolades to remind them of their capabilities and inspire others.
Personalized milestones and progress charts. Create personalized milestones and progress charts, mapping their journey towards specific achievements. As they reach each milestone, celebrate their progress, reminding them of their growth and the possibilities that lie ahead.
Certificates and awards. Present certificates and awards for achievements, whether academic, creative, or social. Acknowledging their efforts publicly can boost their self-esteem and encourage others to strive for success.
Appreciate growth and self-celebration. Teach children and teens the importance of self-recognition. Encourage them to reflect on their progress and growth over time. Help them appreciate how far they have come, emphasizing that success is not just about the destination but also the journey. Encourage them to celebrate personal achievements, no matter how small, by taking time to acknowledge and feel proud of their accomplishments.
Culture of appreciation. Create a culture of appreciation. Encourage children and teens to express gratitude for their efforts and achievements. Incorporate regular “appreciation circles” or “gratitude journals” where they can share and celebrate positive experiences.
Set and recognize achievable goals. Help young minds set realistic and achievable goals aligned with their interests and aspirations. As they achieve these goals, acknowledge and celebrate their efforts, reinforcing the connection between hard work and success.
Celebrate effort. Offer sincere and specific praise, focusing specifically on their efforts, regardless of the outcome. Recognize the qualities they demonstrated in overcoming challenges and highlight their resilience, determination, and creativity. Emphasize that trying and learning from mistakes is part of the journey to success.
In the quest to nurture resilience in children and teens, increased self-awareness stands as a transformative skill, empowering young minds to embrace life’s challenges with unwavering confidence and clarity. The goal is for children and teens to become more attuned to their thoughts, emotions, and inner experiences. This heightened self-awareness enables them to identify unhelpful thought patterns, regulate their emotions, and make conscious choices that contribute to their overall resilience and well-being. As they practice self-awareness, they gain greater control over their responses to life’s challenges, leading to a more positive and adaptive outlook on life.
Whether we are mental health professionals, educators, or parents, we play a crucial role in guiding them on this journey of self-discovery and emotional strength. By incorporating skill-building activities like the ones outlined here, we create a foundation for emotional resilience that will guide them throughout life’s journey.
As we conclude this week’s exploration of increased self-awareness, let’s take a proactive step towards nurturing resilience in ourselves and the young minds around us. Your homework this week is to help children and teens embrace the power of daily mindful moments. Use the following to help promote success – be sure to model the same to encourage engagement.
Step 1: Set aside time: Carve out a few minutes each day to focus on mindfulness. It could be in the morning, during lunch, or before bedtime – choose a time that works best.
Step 2: Find a quiet space: Create a calming environment, free from distractions. Whether it’s a cozy corner or a serene spot in nature, find a space they can focus on the present moment without distractions.
Step 3: Mindful breathing: Have children and teens sit comfortably, close their eyes if they are comfortable doing so, and take a few deep breaths. Remind them not to try to change anything but to bring their attention to the sensation of your breath. Observe the rise and fall of their chest, or the coolness of the air as they inhale and exhale. Encourage them to stay present in this experience.
Step 4: Observe thoughts: As they practice mindful breathing, thoughts may arise – that’s perfectly normal. Have them acknowledge them without judgment and gently guide their focus back to your breath. Remind them to be kind to themselves and remember that the goal is not to eliminate thoughts, but to observe them without getting carried away by them.
Step 5: Extend this to daily activities: Encourage children and teens to practice mindful moments in various daily activities. For example, while eating, have them savour each bite mindfully, paying attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of the food. To start, have them choose one activity to actively focus on.
Step 6: Reflect on the Experience: At the end of each mindful moment, have them take a moment to reflect on how they feel. Have them notice any changes in thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations. Have them celebrate the moments of presence and self-awareness they experienced.
By incorporating mindful moments into their daily routines, children and teens will enhance their self-awareness, foster resilience, and create a positive ripple effect around them. Embrace this homework action and witness the transformative power of being fully present in each moment.
Want to learn more about how to promote children’s emotional intelligence and resilience? Check out my Anxiety Compass training, designed to nurture emotion regulation, confidence, independence, and resilience. Let’s explore the path to unbreakable spirits together!