Metacognition and How it Relates to Your Tween

Teenage girl sitting on window seat with head in hand
Credit: Jupiterimages/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Metacognition refers to the processes that allow people to reflect on their own cognitive abilities. In other words, metacognition allows people to know what they know or to think about their thinking. Some people may prefer to think that metacognition is the ability to understand a sense of self.

Metacognitive processes include planning, monitoring one's own thoughts, problem-solving, making decisions and evaluating one's thought processes.

It also involves the use of strategies for remembering information. Metacognition is vital to the learning process and is an important part of your child's emotional maturity.

To succeed academically tweens need to fine tune their metacognitive skills. Such skills may also benefit students outside of the classroom, such as when they're interacting with friends and may be faced with peer pressure, or if they are ready to take on small jobs or responsibilities. These thinking skills can also help tweens as they determine whether a decision they're about to make is good or bad, even if peer pressure isn't involved. 

When Do Metacognitive Skills Develop?

Metacognitive skills develop during childhood. Tweens tend to have relatively strong metacognitive abilities compared to young children. Just as tweens are still developing cognitively, however, they are also continuing to experience metacognitive developments.

Tweens who have stronger metacognitive skills tend to perform better academically than tweens with weaker skills.

How Parents Can Encourage the Metacognitive Process

Parents can support the development of metacognition by encouraging their children to reflect on their own thoughts and actions. For instance, parents might ask, "How did you make that decision?" or "What strategy did you use to remember what to buy at the store?" Try to work these questions into your daily activities or routines, such as at family dinner time.

Children raised in households in which parents are authoritarian or in schools in which teachers or administrators are may struggle to develop such thinking skills. If students are simply taught to obey orders, not question the decisions of the adults around them or to "do as I say, not as I do," they may not spend much time reflecting on their thought processes. ​

The same could happen if parents are not directly authoritarian but smother their children--the proverbial helicopter parents who follow their child's every move for fear of a misstep. These children need to be allowed to make decisions without their parents' help to reflect on their thought process or to develop their own unique set of problem-solving skills.

Wrapping Up

If you think you're doing your best to help your child make decisions independently and he still seems to struggle with metacognition, discuss the issue with your child's teacher. Find out if the teacher can provide you with books, worksheets or activities designed to improve metacognition. Perhaps there's a camp, volunteer opportunity or another event that will help your child form these skills.

If you suspect that something else is to blame for why your child struggles with metacognition, talk to his teacher about the possibility of him having a learning disability.

If that's the case, the school can get him evaluated and then give him the tools he needs to boost his problem-solving skills.

As children grow, they will face increasingly complex dilemmas in life and in the classroom. The development of metacognitive skills can usher your children through challenges, and help your tween on the path to maturity.


Sternberg R.. (1985) Approaches to intelligence. In Chipman SF, Segal JW & Glaser R. (eds.) Thinking and learning skills, vol 2, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum