How to Teach Kids to Self-Reflect

Written by Noah Teitelbaum

May 1, 2020

Social-emotional Learning

Want to learn a way to get students self-reflecting meaningfully?

Then please play along for a moment and silently answer the following questions:

  • What are the one or two best parts of the last 24 hours of your life?
  • Got it? Now, what are the one or two worst parts?

You’ve just done Roses and Thorns! The characters in our social-emotional storybook, Munchy and Jumpy Tales do this in the story, A Thorny Day, which is also part of our lesson on Coping Skills. You may want to try it with your children or students too.

How does Roses and Thorns help kids with social-emotional learning?

By having children reflect on their “roses”—the positive experiences they’ve had recently—you’re asking them to practice gratitude. Research has shown benefits including better physical health as a result of daily gratitude.

By having children reflect on their “thorns”—the negative experiences they’ve had recently—you’re giving them space to voice what’s bothering them. Two of CASEL’s social-emotional competencies are Self-awareness and Self-management and it turns out that the first competency is a big part of the second. Naming what you’re feeling is part of managing the feeling. By inviting children to observe what’s bothering them in a non-judgmental way, you also are practicing mindfulness with them.
image of red rose to help kids self-reflect with text saying

Use this graphic to teach kids how to self-reflect

Tips on how to do roses and thorns effectively

  1. Model it. The first time, you should go first. While keeping it age-appropriate, be honest.
  2. Be quiet. Parents and educators often feel the need to say a lot and teach. This is a moment when less is more. While some roses and thorns may lead to some useful conversation, unless there’s a good reason, delay those follow-up conversations to later. Instead of delving into whatever is mentioned, stick with small bits of acknowledgment such as “oh, that sounds like a lot of fun” or “hmm, that sounds tough.”
  3. Silence is OK. If you’ve offered your roses and thorns and a child doesn’t want to go, let them stay quiet. This isn’t a forced march through our feelings, it’s an invitation. Knowing that they don’t have to participate is a good trauma-informed practice.
  4. Rinse and repeat. It takes many kids a few turns of the activity to get the hang of it. Don’t give up if the first time or two falls a bit flat.

Ready for a bit more, try adding “buds”—the things that you’re looking forward to. One benefit to that addition is that it ends each person’s reflection on a positive note.

Let us know if this ends up becoming a useful part of your family or classroom practice.

P.S. My 6-year-old daughter added “avocados” to the ritual and I still am not sure what those are.

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Written by

Noah Teitelbaum

Noah started his 20 years in education with 5th graders in Harlem and then went on to teach in other schools serving low-income students in the NYC area. He knows firsthand the need for tools for teaching SEL and Mindfulness. Noah has also been an instructional coach, an author of teaching handbooks and curricula, a consultant to some of the most innovative schools in the country, and a business manager and product innovator for a national test-prep business. He’s earned his Masters in Education, and an MBA, and has done significant course work in Instructional Leadership.

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