Young children almost never have a sense of self-awareness. That's why you've probably caught them running around in front of people without any clothes on. And they tend to find the most inappropriate times to show their shame, too. Have you ever had to leave church early because you took your eyes off your toddler for three seconds and the next thing you knew he was as naked as a jaybird? Or have you ever had to run toward your toddler with a blanket because they were prancing around in all their glory at your in-law's 50th anniversary party? Hopefully, they gain a sense of self-awareness as they grow up and outgrow this phase while still having the confidence they need to succeed in their academic, social and work life. Here are some tips to help you guide them toward that type of self-awareness that teaches them who they are and their place in the world.
- Encourage their individuality. Children learn about themselves by expressing their interests and participating in their favorite activities. But if you're constantly stifling their creativity, you might make them more confused than they already are. Instead, encourage them to participate in their favorite sport, instrument or other activity that they enjoy and don't force them to participate in activities they don't enjoy. The fact that they are able to make the decision for themselves will give them a sense of confidence and self-awareness that they didn't have before.
- Provide a nurturing and emotionally secure environment. Studies have shown that children who grow up in homes where they felt unloved or emotionally detached show a low level of self-identity. Many of them feel like their personality is simply a response to others instead of being an individual person themselves. Be sure to show affection and love toward your child and provide the best possible environment for them to grow up in. When this happens, your child will feel secure enough to form their own personality and identity.
- Create name games. One of the simplest and most effective ways for helping your child create an individual identity is to focus on their name. Create games that they can play that focuses on their name. For example, if their name is Chad, have your child come up with one of the qualities for each letter. "C is for caring, H is for happy..." and so on. Since every child knows their own name, this is a great way to help them develop self-awareness.
- Ask them questions about themselves. Help your child to explore their own personality by asking them open-ended questions that allows them to express how they feel. Try to avoid questions with one-word answers ("Do you feel sad when you see a hurt puppy?"). Instead, ask them, "What kinds of things make you sad?" You can also do a variation on this by asking them to complete the sentence, "I feel sad when..." Anything you can do to get your child to open up and explore their identity will help them form a strong sense of self-awareness in their early years. This will help them develop maturely into adolescence and into adulthood.
- Explore their group identity. One way for children to acquire a personal identity is to start with their group identity. Does your young son belong to the Cub Scouts? Or does your daughter belong to a certain dance troupe? If so, they identify themselves with those particular groups. This can even expand into a certain classroom or even a team if they play a sport. Encourage your child to explore their group identity, but make sure this isn't they only way they identify themselves. Use it as a starting off point to begin talking about their individual identity.
- Look in the mirror together. Young children might not know that the person in the mirror is actually them. But as they grow older, they begin to learn that fact. When your child is old enough to realize this, sit in front of the mirror with them and ask them what they see. Ask your child to describe the person looking back at them and ask what kind of person they are. Ask them their likes and dislikes and their favorite activities and hobbies. This is an ideal way to get them to open up about themselves and really talk about who they are. By talking about the person in the mirror instead of them, they typically feel less inhibited and less shy.