Metacognition is the ability to think about your own knowledge and ability to understand, control, and monitor and evaluate your own academic development and performance in an objective way.
Children with poor metacognition or self-regulation skills may be surprised by a low grade or negative feedback. They do not have the capacity to understand and evaluate their own shortcomings. They do not reflect on whether they understand something or recognize the possible consequences. They are often out of tune with others’ expectations. They tend not to think about the real objective of a task or activity and plunge into addressing a problem without weighing alternatives first. They often do not pay attention or discriminate between aspects that are important and less significant. They rarely reflect on their own performance.
Improving metacognition and self-regulation skills have a high level of impact on functioning in most other executive functioning domains, as it relates to the ability to honestly assess one’s behavior, performance, and relationships. In fact, it is a complex set of skills that applies many of the other executive functions as well.
A child gradually develops his or her ability to recognize and organize new information, builds associations with thoughts and feelings through experience, is able to plan for the future, and manage behavior and emotions to achieve personal and social goals. Slowly they build an understanding of others’ perceptions and intent, upon which they develop their own self-concept.
A healthy self-concept is an important building block for happiness later in life. It requires honest but unbiased self-reflection to be able to recognize the strong points in oneself. It takes even more courage to recognize areas that need developing. The ability to evaluate and reflect on oneself is of utmost importance to build a well-balanced sense of self-identity. The process is continued well into adulthood, but very worthwhile to start at a much earlier age.
What do I do to help my child improve her/his metacognition skill?
Select one or two issues that your child experience with metacognition or self-regulation. It can that s/he able to distinguish whether she understands something or not, not appreciating what s/he is expected to learn or why, not “pre-thinking” properly through a task before starting, or not being able to review his/her own performance accurately. S/he may also have difficulty formulating strategies to deal with a problem. If needed, review the questionnaire scores for input. Define the issues that need improvement as specific as possible, noting the frequency, severity, and consequences. Also, consider whether there is a common antecedent or trigger, what the typical situation is and who is involved. Formulate a goal for each issue. Break it up into smaller goals if possible.
Before you start with the intervention, sit down with your child and explain the problem, process, and importance of achieving the goals that you have set. Ask your child for input in setting goals and plans for improvement. Make him or her feel empowered in the process. In order to improve your child’s metacognition, it must become a habit for him/her to constantly think about and review his/her own performance and strategies to improve it. When this behavior becomes consistent improvements will be noticeable in her performance at home and school.
In order to develop the skill to evaluate his or her task-based performance, the following steps can be taken:
- Select a task and agree on specific objective(s) and a schedule.
- After completion of the task, always ask him/her to articulate how she think she performed.
- Offer brief but specific suggestions to improve an aspect.
- Reinforce the need to question the problem, plan, and solution.
In terms of improving your child’s metacognition skills in social situations, teach him/her to:
- Recognize emotions through facial expressions, voice, and other behavior.
- Be able to accurately articulate his/her own and others’ emotions.
- Always be mindful of the impact that his/her own behavior may have on others’ emotions.
- Always think before speaking or acting.
In both these aspects, identify a specific problem behavior, set an objective and guidelines in place. For example, to listen before speaking, and responding with interest and courtesy. As a parent, provide an example and cues or reminders when needed. Compliment your child when s/he shows improvement and highlight positive outcomes, e.g. new friends, less disagreements.
What comes next?
In session 8, we explore the remaining skill sets of executive functioning, namely response inhibition, emotional control, sustained attention, and task initiation, all of which requires a form of control to perform daily tasks and interactions.