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#SELChat: 5 Tips for Teaching Self-Awareness and Rethinking Priorities

Given our collective trauma experienced through the pandemic, our society is more open than ever before to talk about mental health. The topic is trending on Twitter regularly, is featured on morning shows weekly, and is the biggest concern in education for students and teachers alike. What do we do with this fresh revelation of the body, mind, and heart connection? 

As an educator and a mom, I have regularly asked my children and students this question: How’s your heart today? More often than not, they are taken by surprise. Sometimes they inquire with a puzzled look, “What do you mean?” Other times they dismiss me with a huff and a shrug, “Fine.” My goal in asking this is to spark reflection and conversation. More often than not, kids will ponder the question even if they don’t articulate a response. 

Self-awareness is knowing your strengths and weaknesses; being able to know and understand how you feel.

In 2015, Disney released a movie called Inside Out that chronicles the life of a young girl forced to move across the country with her parents depicting all of the emotions that go along with that type of big change. The main characters in the girl’s head are Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness – the five core human emotions. As a result of this film, children, parents and caregivers have a visual reference as well as a vocabulary to express their feelings. For younger children, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has been a fun and engaging show that provides similar tools for dealing with anxiety and other emotions. No matter how old we are, when we can label what we are feeling, we can process it in healthy ways rather than acting out dysregulated.

One of the most important things to communicate to children is that it is okay to feel how we feel. Feelings are guideposts. It’s what we do with those feelings that can be right or wrong. For example, it’s okay to feel angry because parents are getting a divorce. It’s not okay to hurt yourself, destroy property or hurt others when you are angry.

Emotions can seem overwhelming, and at times they can cloud our vision, keeping us from seeing what is the next best step. That’s why it’s imperative that we teach kids to identify what is going on in their heads and hearts so they can make wise choices about what they do and say.

Tips for teaching children about self-awareness:

1. Prioritize connection. – Set aside regular time to talk with students about how they are doing. This can be during homeroom, advisory or desk chats.

2. Offer an emotion wheel. Provide a visual. Talk through what emotions look like on our faces or feel like in our bodies. 

3. Journal or draw. Play some classical music and give students the opportunity to free write or free draw for 15-20 minutes or more. Creativity provides a healthy outlet for big emotions.

4. Ask questions. Whether in conversation or as a result of students sharing their creative work, dig deeper with questions, such as “Can you tell me more about that?”.

5. Listen. Sometimes the very best thing is to be there, without giving advice.

One of the gifts of the pandemic is that it has given us the opportunity to slow down and re-think our priorities. Ensuring our students are healthy in body, mind and spirit is preeminent.

About the Author

Tamara Fyke is an educator and social entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator and author of Love In A Big World, which provides mental health, SEL, and wellness curriculum and content. During quarantine, Tamara created MusiCity Kids, an online educational show for kids ages 6-12 that addresses health, movement, character development, STEAM, and more. Tamara is editor of