7 ways to help teens and tweens gain self-awareness

By Amanda Morin

Self-awareness is an important quality for tweens and teens with learning and thinking differences to develop. Self-awareness can help kids come to grips with their challenges and understand how these challenges affect them in school and elsewhere.

Encourage your child to speak openly about challenges.

It’s important for kids to understand and talk about how learning and thinking differences affect daily life. This can help them become effective self-advocates, speaking up for what they need in a positive way. Try to have open conversations in which kids can express how they feel. Rather than saying, “Your makes it hard for you to pay attention,” consider asking questions like, “Where do you see your ADHD getting in your way? Can I tell you what I see?”

Point out the positives.

Tweens and teens with learning and thinking differences can be quick to criticize themselves. But self-awareness means recognizing positives as well as negatives. Try to correct your child’s misconceptions. Humor can help redirect this way of thinking. For example, “You think kids don’t like you? There are always kids hanging out here playing video games with you. I don’t think it’s my sparkling personality they’re here for. That’s all you!”

Foster a balanced perspective.

Finding a balance between helping adolescents gain self-awareness and making them self-conscious can be tricky. Try not to make learning and thinking differences the focus of every conversation. And remind your child that everyone has strengths that have nothing to do with their challenges. For example, “Sure, reading and writing are tough for you. You’re also a great baseball pitcher, and your doesn’t affect that at all.”

Discourage comparisons.

It’s hard for kids to be aware of their own abilities when they view them in the light of other people’s performance. Help kids resist comparing themselves to friends or siblings. You might say: “You know, I hear you saying you’re not as talented in music as your sister is in art. But that’s apples and oranges. Those are two different things and you’re two different people. It doesn’t seem like a reasonable comparison.”

Consider working with a professional.

Kids who struggle with school may be at higher risk for emotional challenges and a negative self-image. And it may be difficult for you to help, since kids may think that parents have to say nice things about them. Sometimes tweens and teens do better with someone who’s not as close to them. That’s why it can be a good idea to call in an outside professional, like a therapist, to help your child develop self-awareness. You could also consider working with a mentor.

Encourage your child to be a member of the team.

Taking more responsibility for themselves can help empower kids — and increase their self-awareness, too. If kids have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) at school, you can ask them to start taking an active role in meetings. It may be helpful for kids to review the draft IEP before meetings and come up with points and questions to share. This can help them gain a better understanding of their own needs and become more confident about advocating for themselves.

Provide opportunities for independence.

Becoming more independent is part of being self-aware. Most teens crave independence. If kids don’t have safe, appropriate ways to exercise it at home, there’s a chance they could rebel or take dangerous risks. Doing things like cooking for themselves, getting themselves to school on time, and sticking to a curfew are important ways for kids to become more independent — safely. Many parents start giving their children some of these tasks in middle school and expand them in high school.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Jenn Osen-Foss, MAT is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions, and co-planning.