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Self-Monitoring: A Guide to Teaching Your Kids to See Themselves

Happy New Year!

Hopefully 2021 is off to a good start (the bar of 2020 is pretty low.. let's be honest). Last week, I wrote about goal setting and self-reflection and the importance of the ability to look at one's self with honesty and acceptance.

This leads perfectly into this week's focus - Self-Monitoring. Another essential element of Executive Functioning!

To recap:

- Executive Functioning Skills are the tools that help us execute functions - go figure!

- They help us plan, problem solve and manage emotions

- These skills need to be explicitly taught to most kids - some grasp it more easily than others

- Without these skills, kids start to fall apart with tasks that have many large parts or even more than one step

- This can lead to challenges with longer term goals and life planning as they grow up

- Kids with lagging Executive Functioning skills may demonstrate deficits in academic and behavioural areas

Section 5 from the image above focuses in on Self-Monitoring. The idea of self-monitoring is really one that zeros in on meta-cognition (the ability to think about thinking or demonstrate higher-order thinking skills). There two elements here - observation and recording.


In this part, a child learns to self-reflect and observe themselves - their thoughts, behaviours and actions, in the moment or afterwards. This could mean acknowledging or identifying an emotion ("I am feeling mad right now") or a challenge ("I'm having trouble staying on task") or a positive moment ("This piece of work was my very best effort!"). Let's look at an example of a child who impulsively pushes others when upset. Kids who have difficulty with pushing others may notice themselves pushing another kid mid-way through the act, while others may realize after the fact. As long as they've realized - they've successfully observed themselves! Of course, our goal is to get them to observe these feelings, behaviours and actions early enough in the process that they can de-escalate their aggression and cope in a healthy way that does not put others at risk!

Learning to identify these things in ourselves takes time, practice and lots of modelling from the grown ups! It is important that as the adults, we clearly help label emotions and actions in order to help kids see them, too! We can do this by using common cues (visual cues, verbal cues, etc.). Decide on these cues with your child and let them know that when they see or hear x this means that they are doing x. We want to be careful not to damage a child's self-esteem in the process, especially if it is a behaviour or action they experience frequently. A cue helps replace the "UGH, Mary, you're doing x again - stop", with a signal that only you two know! It helps prompt them to think about themselves more frequently and catch their own actions in the moment.

One of the best ways to learn the skill of self-monitoring is to do regular self check-ins. You can do this through guided mindfulness activities. There are tons out there geared towards kids. Here are a few helpful resources I like:

Helping a child to recognize how they feel their feelings is one of the keys to being able to identify their own emotions. Helping them recognize that when they feel worried, their tummy hurts or palms are sweaty can help them identify this feeling in the future and apply learned strategies to help independently manage those feelings. You can do this by labeling their emotions as they feel them, helping them process their feelings and build coping strategies in a healthy way. Developing a toolbox of strategies is so important for a child to rely on as they start to experience big feelings. Strategies such as 5-finger breathing, counting to 10 forwards and backwards, squeezing a stress ball and square breathing are examples of strategies they might use!

This is especially important if you have a child who has trouble self-regulating in the classroom or structured environments. Kids who struggle with self-monitoring also often have difficulty managing their impulses or behaviour in more structured settings. Once they learn to self-monitor, they can then learn the strategy of asking for a break or support, if needed.

Independent Work

Self-monitoring can also apply to independent work. This might be a child's ability to go through a task, assignment or project and know that they've independently moved through all of the components successfully and to the best of their ability. They use their other Executive Functioning skills such as organizing and planning to be able to complete the task independently. In addition, they can self-monitor their own effort of work by looking back at their task and evaluating their own result. I often have kids mark themselves against the very same rubric I will be using (albeit, they are Grade 5) but this can be simplified for younger students and still be successful! Any opportunity to take a look at their work and reflect is an opportunity to build their own understanding of themselves.


Once a child is able to successfully observe themselves, the next component is actually changing their behaviour or action based on their observation. For example, if your child speaks consistently at a high volume and you have been working with them to lower their voice when playing indoors, you may still be working towards the observation element. Perhaps you have a volume chart on the wall and point to the level you'd like them to be at. You've developed a visual cue that when you tug your ear, it means they are too loud. You prompt check-ins during play to practice self-monitoring and observation by asking, "What level is our volume right now?". The hope is that at some point, they start to notice their own volume and check in with themselves during play. Once they realize they are too loud, they will (ideally) lower their own volume upon observation and if not, you can support them with this until they master the skill.

We can use outlines, checklists, rubrics, charts, and timers to help children develop these skills.

This article from The OT Toolbox lays it out perfectly. I suggest checking it out!

ICYMI and are looking for other related posts:

Here is my recent post on task initiation.

Here is my previous post on Executive Functioning!

Happy Monitoring!



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