Games and apps that place your child in social situations are especially good tools for practicing self-awareness, but practice with this thinking skill comes any time a child is challenged to reflect and self-assess. Your child gets the most out of this self-awareness practice when you get involved.
Talking about and playing video games with your kids not only gives them validation and support, it offers you opportunities to help them reflect on and make connections between the skills they use in the game and the skills they use in the real world. You can help them take that practice to the next level by working on one or more of these activities together.
As you work on tasks and projects around the house, look for opportunities to use statements such as, “This reminds me of the time when we tried to do this…” or “I need to think about what worked and didn’t work last time we did this” or “I want to learn from the mistakes I made last time, so let me think about a new way to try this.”
Encourage your child to use similar self-instructional and metacognitive strategies for problem solving. Prompt them to think about and discuss ways they have successfully completed difficult tasks in the past. Ask them questions like, “Can you think of another way of doing that?” or “How do you think others might have solved that problem?” The goal is for them to get into the habit of asking these questions independently.
Ask your child their likes and dislikes to help them see preferences as important components of self-awareness. If they have difficulties in this area, start with simple, direct questions such as, “What are your favorite foods, desserts, sports, TV shows, etc.” Gradually move on to more complex topics such as favorite seasons, school subjects, and friends. Follow up by asking for elaboration about why they prefer the things they does.
Develop checklists to help children determine how well they have completed a home-based chore or activity. Use a grading system and give praise for accurate self-evaluation. Have them rate themselves for the same task while you are also rating them and then compare and contrast scores. Describe your methods of evaluation and ask them to do the same. An app like HabitRPG or ChoreMonster can help.
Help your child to set up a play date with a friend by talking about the guest’s interests, anticipating any needs or preparing some activities that they might both enjoy. You may also find ways to have your child help you in getting ready for dinner guests or visiting relatives with similar considerations in mind.
Make use of occasional opportunities for you and your child to sit back and observe other children in small groups. On a bench at the playground, the beach or the mall, take turns reporting on social interactions you can watch live. Make guesses about what might be going on and then point out any physical actions, facial expressions, behaviors or tones of voice that give clues to support or disprove your imagined story.
Role-playing or rehearsing lines can be a big help in getting ready to meet new people or enter a new setting. Take turns introducing yourself to each other and asking one or two appropriate questions. As your child becomes more confident with these skills, simply offer a prompt prior to entering a new situation. Be generous with praise for efforts and successes.
Provide a checklist for your child and agree to work on one or two skills at a time. Some basic starting points would include the following: face the person you are talking or listening to and make eye contact; allow an arm’s length of personal space; display appropriate facial expressions; match your activity level to the situation or group; and pay attention to communication such as whether or not you are listening, interrupting, talking too much or too loudly and staying on topics of shared interest. Use an MMORPG like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2 to ease your child into social skills and give them practice interacting with others in a less stressful environment.
Discuss your own experience while involved in an activity with your child, ask about her thoughts or feelings and compare impressions. Use everyday circumstances to motivate your child to consider how other kids might be feeling in situations such as before a recital, staying home alone for the first time, or losing a game. Find similar chances to discuss the feelings of others while watching sports on television, learning about an accident or seeing a classmate receive an award for an accomplishment. Games like Ori and the Blind Forest, Gone Home, Thomas Was Alone, and Whispering Willows are good tools for practicing empathy.
Looking at how people from other countries communicate, do business, or celebrate traditional events can not only build understanding and empathy for others, it can also inspire your child to pay closer attention to social customs and expectations within your own family and community. Depending upon your child’s interests, you could use books and websites, a shopping trip to another neighborhood, or you could pretend to be tourists at a local flea market or festival.