Self-Awareness For Kids And Grownups

By: Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac.

Sometimes I'm with my kids (or driving in traffic or talking to my husband or...) and suddenly I'll start feeling angry or frustrated or sad -- and I don't understand where that came from. Other times, our preschooler will just start lashing out but he can't say what's bothering him. Any ideas?

Great question! You're talking about self-awareness, which is one of the five essential inner skills (the others are letting go of painful experiences, insight into oneself, taking in positive experiences, and choosing well).

Although these inner skills get much less attention than the outer ones - like long division, writing business letters, or driving a fork lift - they make a much bigger difference in a person's lifetime happiness, income, and contribution to others. So it pays to help children get good at them . . . and to get good at them ourselves. This is a profoundly important idea for every family.

For example, a toddler who can notice early on that she's getting frustrated and go to her mom for comfort is going to be happier (and easier to raise) than one who builds up tension and anger to the point that it explodes and overwhelms her. Similarly, a parent who can sense the softer feelings of being let down beneath the surface of anger is going to be a lot more effective in communicating with his or her partner.

Everybody's self-aware, to some degree -- and here are some ways to get even better at it

For Children

For Grownups

The inner world has its own reality, and you can become a very skillful observer of it as well:

Notice your attitudes toward your younger parts; these are often an internalization of your parents' messages. Do you accept those younger parts or push them away? Do you bring kindness to them or meanness? Experiment with being especially kind to them, and see what that's like.

Whenever you're upset, try to sense into the younger layers beneath the surface of frustration, loss, or anger. Your awareness of them will help them flow . . . and move on.

Like any other skill, you get better at the inner ones with practice. Each day has many opportunities to help yourself or your child develop greater self-awareness. Enjoy!

Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson, M.S., L.Ac., is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son, ages 14 and 17. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the first and second authors of Mother Nurture: A Motherís Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin. You can see their website at or email them with questions or comments at; unfortunately, a personal reply may not always be possible.

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