7 Ways to Help Teens and Tweens Gain Self-Awareness

By Amanda Morin

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Self-awareness is an important quality for tweens and teens with learning and attention issues to develop. Self-awareness can help your child come to grips with his issues and understand how they affect him in school and elsewhere.

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Mother and daughter getting ready for t heir day, talking in the bathroom
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Encourage your child to speak openly about his issues.

It’s important for your child to understand and talk about how learning and attention issues affect his daily life. This can help him become an effective self-advocate, speaking up for what he needs in a positive way. Try to have open conversations in which he can express how he feels. Rather than saying, “Your ADHD makes it hard for you to pay attention,” consider asking him questions like, “Where do you see your ADHD getting in your way? Can I tell you what I see?”

Mother and son outdoors, laughing and joking with each other
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Point out the positives.

Tweens and teens with learning and attention issues 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 his 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!”

Close up of proud students after a sports event
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Foster a balanced perspective.

Finding a balance between helping your adolescent gain self-awareness and making him self-conscious can be tricky. Try not to make learning and attention issues the focus of every conversation. And remind your child that there are things he does well that have nothing to do with his issues. For example, “Sure, reading and writing are tough for you. You’re also a great baseball pitcher, and your dyslexia doesn’t affect that at all.”

Group of friends sitting outdoors against a chain link fence talking and checking phones
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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 your child resist comparing himself to friends or siblings. You might start a conversation like this: “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.”

Smiling teen boy taking a guitar lesson from a mentor
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Consider working with a professional.

If your child struggles with school, he may be at higher risk for emotional challenges and a negative self-image. And it may be difficult for you to help, since your child may think that, as his parent, you have to say nice things about him. 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.

Close up of a teen student attending a meeting with peers and teachers
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Encourage your child to be a member of the team.

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

Teen girl cooking for herself in the kitchen
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Provide opportunities for independence.

Becoming more independent is part of being self-aware. Most teens crave independence. If you don’t give your child safe, appropriate ways to exercise it at home, there’s a chance he could rebel or take dangerous risks. Doing things like cooking for himself, getting himself to school on time and sticking to a curfew are important ways your child can 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

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

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Portrait of Jenn Osen Foss

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

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