George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

5 Simple Practices that Cultivate Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence in Adults and Children

January 25, 2016 Updated January 22, 2016

No matter what your role is in a child’s life, you may have experienced that if you are in the position of raising that child, they will most likely do what you do and only sometimes do what you say. The reason for this is simple: children’s minds are like little sponges, quickly soaking up information through personal experiences and observation.  They learn about how to be in this world by watching you. So if you tell them not to do _______ (fill in the blank) but you’re doing it every day all day long, well…can you blame them when they start doing it? I know, it sucks. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Then, when you bring up the fact that they’re doing that “thing” you told them not to do, they’ll just simply state, “you do it all the time”.

Fortunately there’s a solution. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy: leading by example. Which means we have to be more self-aware and hold ourselves accountable for our own actions and choices. Every choice we make is directly related to the experiences we are having on a daily basis. (Oh joy!) Don’t worry, the more you walk down this path, the easier it is to deal with, and the child that is observing you, deep down, will have more reverence for you because they will notice an alignment in your words, thoughts and actions.

Here’s five activities you can do with your child that will help you become the change you want to see in your child. (These are all things I have practiced, myself, in order to grow on my journey of self-awareness and have enjoyed doing with my son as well.) 

MIRROR WORK —Louise Hay’s famous exercise can be described as “looking into one’s own eyes and saying something positive about oneself every time one passes a mirror.” The way I performed this exercise myself was I actually just stood in front of my bathroom mirror, looked directly into my own eyes and said the following affirmation, “I love and approve of myself” and noticed how I felt afterwards. If I felt a knot in my stomach like I was lying to myself I knew that I would benefit from continuing this exercise on a daily basis. It took about 15 days of consistent mirror work before I felt like I was telling myself the truth. That’s when I invited my son to come in and join me in the mirror and say the same affirmation to himself while looking himself in the eyes. He was 5-years-old at that time. For more information about mirror work, you can visit Louise Hay’s blog. 

HAND WRITE A THANK-YOU CARD —If you make a habit of saying “thank you” in writing often, you will be amazed at how good it makes you feel in the moment and also, what kind of experiences you will have in the days to come because of it. I’ve written thank you cards to my son’s teachers, various service providers, retail clerks, customer service representatives over the phone, you name it, I’ve done it. As a matter of fact, I just had to order new eyeglasses and there was this wonderful woman named Cynthia that worked at the optical store that was so genuinely patient while I tried on close to every pair of frames in the store! Some might say, well that’s what she’s supposed to do, it’s her job! Maybe so, but isn’t it nice when others acknowledge what you’re doing right and thank you for it? My son has been writing thank you cards since he was five years old. If you’re doing it, they’ll do it. 

BOOK OF POSITIVE ASPECTS —This is a tool I learned about through Abraham Hicks’ teachings. A “Book of Positive Aspects” is a notebook that you write in listing all the things that might not be going well in your life, yet you acknowledge the part of it that you so like or appreciate. For example, let’s say you don’t like how your child never does his chores. In your book of positive aspects, you could create a page entitled, “Positive Aspects About My Child” and list all the things you do like. This will assist you in acknowledging and appreciating all of the things you do like about your child’s behavior. The more you focus on that, your child will notice and they will want to do even more. It works! Getting into the habit of this will help your child too because there will be some things they don’t like in their lives that they would like to change and this practice will help them cultivate a healthy balanced outlook on anything they choose.

GENUINELY SMILE AT OTHERS THAT YOU ENCOUNTER THROUGHOUT THE DAY—This small act of kindness goes a very long way. Showing kindness with a smile is a gift. I urge you to ask those close to you how many times co-workers, passersby or service providers smile at them during the day. It would not surprise me to hear they encounter zero or minimal smiles on a daily basis. Being the change you want to see out in the world is what makes a difference in your experiences. Showing kindness through the act of smiling is a healthy way to lead by example for your child. Besides, have you ever been smiled at by a small child you encounter in the checkout line or at the park? They smile and/or wave at you? Doesn’t it just make your day? So go out today and genuinely smile at all you encounter.

ACTIVE LISTENING—According to Wikipedia, “Active Listening is a communication technique used in counseling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires that the listener repeat what they hear to the speaker—re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to verify what they have heard and confirm understanding of both parties.” When raising a child, how useful would this practice be to get the child to better understand you and you to better understand the child? So many times we have heard teens exclaim, “nobody understands me!” We may not have to face that exclamation in the future if we as leaders, guides and role models to the children in our lives start practicing this on a regular basis. I practice active listening with friends, family, service providers and most of all, with my child. It is one of those intangibles that people really appreciate and it builds trust. Isn’t that what we all want from our children? For them to trust us?

If you try at least one of these activities for three days straight, you will notice a difference in the quality of your personal interactions and experiences. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Please feel free to share your experiences with me.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Mindfulness
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School

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