Should We Intentionally Teach Introspection?

We are the sum total of our own decisions.  Every day, we make one decision after another and those decisions lead to our own future.  Sometimes, we see the decision coming.  We meet people and decide who will remain in our lives.  We make educational choices.  We make career choices.  We choose to marry or not and to have children or not.  Sometimes, events happen that are beyond our control and we react.  Every reaction is a split second decision.  We can determine to focus on having good come from difficult times or we can wallow in them.  Too often, adults complain and blame without looking inward.  When children don’t study and then fail, parents often say, “You have no one to blame but yourself.”  That is true of everything.  Would the world be a better place if we taught introspection beginning in early childhood?

Introspection is one of those intangibles that we cannot have children trace or copy or memorize.  It would need to be taught much like socialization and coping skills – during times of calm so it can be used during times of upheaval.  Imagine if instead of taking time to ensure that every child was sitting in a perfect circle during group times, we asked them to lie down, close their eyes and think about an important thing they did today.  Young children will be very concrete.  They will talk about the toys they played with or the food during snack time.  To adults, it may not look like introspection, but it is a beginning.  Like yoga, we could ask the children to meditate on their day as we said, “Think about the toys you played with.  Did you like playing with them?  Did you play with someone?   Did you do something nice today?”

Then, that sort of reflection could be used as we address behavior.  You can’t teach someone to swim while they are drowning and you can’t teach a child to think about their actions while they are upset.  They will have practiced thinking about their actions during group time.  When upset, it would be so much easier for them to look inward about their own actions if we follow the same introspective pattern.  For example, children wanting something and trying to grab it rather than ask is typical behavior.  They need to learn to cope with their frustration at not having what they want at the moment that they want it.  Children who are used to looking inward might be more able to participate in this conversation – “I see you are angry.  Think about what happened.  Did you want the toy?  What did you do to try to get it?  What happened when you tried that?  What should you do next time?”

Perhaps, along with end of the day announcements in elementary school, we could take a moment to think about the day.  Would children who are taught to think more about their own actions make better decisions? Would there be less bullying if we made self-awareness a part of the curriculum? Children would have better self-esteem if, every day from early childhood through high school, we asked them to think of one action that they did that makes them proud.

If children are intentionally taught to look inward, to think about their own actions and reactions first, to consider how what they did brought them to this point, maybe we would have less adults projecting displaced anger.  Maybe, just maybe, we would raise a generation of people who understood that they own who they have become and the only person responsible for their happiness is them.



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