We spend a lot of time on the 3 R’s and creating a happy, invested learning life with our kids. We show them household skills like wallpaper stripping and toilet-bowl scrubbing.
The chief skill we need to impart for successful relationships in life is self-awareness. Self-awareness, in this little piece, means “the ability to know your thoughts, feelings, and needs; and then to take care of them yourself.”
Blame is what we do when we don’t have self-awareness. We lash out at the nearest person, expecting the unsuspecting, kind bystander to take care of the agitation suddenly erupting inside. For instance, a hungry child may grab your pant leg and whine, “Mommy, I don’t want to go to the store” when really he means, “Mommy, I need a cup of Cheez-its.”
An older child, humiliated in defeat, just beaten by long distance competitors in World of Warcraft, may suddenly yell at a sibling: “Turn down the television! I hate that show!”
The “thing” that evokes the anger or whining is often a cover for what’s really going on. We don’t want to know ourselves because if we do, we must act for our own good. We wrongly assume that it feels better to get someone else to act for us.
One way to foster self-awareness in family members is to have it yourself. Narrate your own self-inquiry and self-care.
“These shoes littering the hallway are driving me crazy! Wait. I just realized that I’m trying to think of how to coordinate Sarah’s dress rehearsal with Sam’s soccer match and these shoes are distracting me from thinking of a solution. I feel like yelling!”
It isn’t always natural to narrate your inner life, but it is helpful when you do. You can also help your children develop self-awareness:
“I see you don’t want to go to the store. Are you hungry? Can I make you a turkey sandwich, first, and then we’ll see if you want to go?”
“Whoa! That’s a huge reaction to the TV. What happened? Did something ‘not good’ happen in your game?”
Eruptions are usually what happen to us when we aren’t attending to the build-up of stress and anxiety inside. We aren’t honest with ourselves—we’re hungry, tired, worried, fearful, insecure. Instead, we blame the nearest intrusion as the reason for our “un-peace.”
Pause, help your child (and yourself!) take responsibility for the panicky explosion. Learn how to self-soothe, how to provide self-care.
I remember when Jacob was a toddler, he’d get worked up into a near-tantrum state. He’d then leave the room and go cry on his bed. When he was finished, he’d come back into the room cheery and ready to play. Pretty high self-awareness for a 2-3 year old!
Help your kids understand how to take themselves out of the room/activity while they figure out what’s going on inside. There’s nothing wrong with being heart-broken about losing a game or annoyed that trips to the store are preventing lunch. Knowing that’s what’s going on is key to family harmony.