Self-awareness is the ability to tune in to your feelings, thoughts, and actions.
Being self-aware also means being able to recognize how other people see you.
There are two kinds of self-awareness: public and private.
You might hear people talk about self-awareness as an important skill—not just for kids, but for adults, too. Self-awareness is the ability to tune in to your own feelings, thoughts, and actions. It’s also about recognizing that how you act affects yourself and others.
The truth is you probably know adults who don’t have a strong sense of self-awareness. If so, you may wonder: Why—and how—should we expect kids to have it?
The answer is simple: Self-awareness is important for people of all ages. It helps us thrive at home, at school, in the workplace, and in relationships with other people. It’s even listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the
10 core life skills. Learn more about self-awareness in kids.
How Self-Awareness Develops
Self-awareness doesn’t develop all at once. It happens over time. The process begins when kids start being able to recognize and name their emotions, strengths and challenges, and likes and dislikes.
There are two kinds of self-awareness.
Private self-awareness is when kids are aware of something about themselves that other people might not be. For example, some kids get butterflies in their stomach
before reading in front of the class. Knowing that means they’re nervous is private self-awareness. It’s not something other people notice or know about them.
Public self-awareness is when kids are aware of how other people see them. This type of self-awareness develops later. That’s because kids need to understand that other people have thoughts, feelings, and perspectives different from theirs. And until about age 5, most kids don’t realize that other people aren’t always thinking and feeling the same way as them. (This is known as theory of mind.)
Some kids have a harder time learning theory of mind, especially kids who have trouble reading
social cues. It’s not that they don’t care about other people’s feelings. Instead, they may not notice or understand other people’s feelings.
Imagine a child who stands very close to other kids when talking. Public self-awareness would be noticing the other kids’ discomfort, realizing what’s causing it, and taking a step back. But not noticing and continuing to stand close doesn’t mean the child is being disrespectful on purpose. It could be that the child missed the social cue. Or that the child needs extra help learning to recognize other people’s responses and feelings.
Private and public self-awareness work together. They help kids understand that what they’re thinking and feeling—how they’re “seeing” themselves—might not always be the way other people see them.
The Importance of Strong Self-Awareness
When kids understand themselves better, it’s easier for them to build
positive self-esteem. That’s important for kids who struggle in school or with friendships. It gives them a way to look not just at their challenges, but also to see what they’re good at. Knowing more about how they think and how they come across gives kids a better sense of when to speak up for what they need, or
Kids who are self-aware do a better job at
self-monitoring, too. That means they’re able to keep track of what they’re doing (with schoolwork or socially) and figure out what’s working and what’s not working. Self-awareness also leads to self-reflection—thinking over things that happened to find ways to make things work better next time.
When kids have strong self-awareness skills, they also: