There can be a delicate balance between giving our kids the gift of social awareness and letting them be kids, free of the worries of the world. Just like everything else in life and in raising kids, we have to consider each of our kids’ personalities, their age, the context etc. No one wants to scare their kids or expose them to scenarios that can be more than they fully understand. However, having social awareness can increase their emotional intelligence, which has been shown to improve empathy, compassion and understanding of relationships. Not so bad right? We can’t be naive to think that our communities, friends, kids’ playmates don’t deal with issues such as racism, hunger, abuse, homelessness etc. Ok lets dig in a little bit…
What is social awareness? It is “the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures” (CASEL). Understanding others’ experiences and emotions builds empathy, improves social and emotional wellbeing, and respect for others.
How can we improve the social awareness in ourselves and our kids? We could all use a good step back, deep breath and pause before we judge another person in most circumstances. A person may judge another driver when they speed passed them, however, they may be more understanding if they knew that that person was speeding to get to work or they would be fired, lose their house, and then go hungry ( People without money are one minor convenience away from disaster). Not that speeding is ok, its just something someone would resort to considering the alternative (and also something most of us are guilty of for far less justifiable reasons). Improved social awareness gives us the “pause” we need to consider that we don’t know the context of a situation and read other peoples emotions, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Increased social awareness allows our kids to recognize when others are sad, or in trouble and activates their desire to comfort and help.
Activities to Improve Social Awareness:
While you are doing an activity like watching a show or reading a book, ask your kids, “how do you think he felt when his friend didn’t share?” Or “look at her face, how do you think she feels”"? Calling attention to nonverbal communication is a great way!
Talk about what you are thankful for during bedtime or around the table
Ask, “What made you smile today?” and “how did you make someone smile today?”
Complete service projects that give your family the chance to connect with the receivers
Be a role model. Show them that you can recognize the needs of others and meet them, narrating to bring attention during the task. “That lady looks like she needs someone to help her open the door, lets go help her!”. etc.
We can expose our kids to the needs of others without scaring them or giving them a burden to bear. Using age appropriate language and giving certain details can serve the purpose without causing a problem. Our first service project benefits a nonprofit, Safe Alliance, a domestic violence shelter. For kids that haven’t been directly exposed to this issue, this may be confusing and scary. For my preschoolers I say, “sometimes kids have to leave their house without bringing all the things they need, so we are going to give them socks”. Maybe for older elementary kids, you can add another layer of information such as, “sometimes kids have to leave their homes and go somewhere where they are safer until they find a different house”. For middle schoolers and high schoolers, you can generally explain situations where family members are not well and hurt the ones they love. If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic violence or sexual abuse, please contact the help hotline, 1−800−799−7233.
Social awareness is an asset to kids in family relationships, at school, eventually benefit them in the workplace. This concept can feel intimidating but, Kind P.O.D.S. is here to support you and give you the tools you need!