What is Metacognition?

what is metacognition? definition and examples

Metacognition can be described as “thinking about one’s thinking.” It is our awareness of of our strengths and weaknesses, big and small. For example, we use metacognition to identify tasks that are likely to be easy, and ones that will be more challenging. Similarly, when our mind wanders while reading, it’s metacognitive skills that kick in to get us back on track. For all of these reasons, metacognition is central to both executive function skills and academic success. And while most people develop metacognition naturally as they progress through school and life, others need explicit strategies for building these skills.

Why is Metacognition Important?

Challenges in life are inevitable. Over the course of their academic career, kids will have difficult assignments. When they join the workforce, there will also be new tasks to overcome. Similarly, there are sure to be social challenges along the way too. Metacognitive awareness is central to developing the grit to overcome each of these obstacles.

We use metacognition to analyze problems and think of solutions. For example, imagine two students, John and Jane, who have an essay due for English class. John finds writing boring and never knows how to start. He puts off the assignment until the night before it’s due, then stays up all night, anxiously writing a far-from-perfect essay. Jane also hates writing and never knows where to start; however, she has developed strategies for how to tackle assignments like this. She starts by breaking it down into steps, and then makes a plan for when she will research and outline each individual part of her essay. A few days before the paper is due, she has finished her outline and all of her research. Due to her high level of planning and preparation, by the time Jane sits down to write, the paper more or less writes itself.

Even if we ignore them, challenges don’t go away. In fact, ignoring them only makes them worse! That’s why it is so important to develop metacognitive awareness. With these skills, we can develop strategies for overcoming obstacles. These sorts of tasks won’t be fun, but at least they’ll be doable (and a lot less stressful!).

How to Build Metacognition at Home

Reflecting on our own strengths, weaknesses, and learning style are great first steps to build metacognition. Plus, helping kids understand that it is totally natural to have areas of difficulty is really important for their self esteem! Here are some other ways kids can build metacognition at home:

  • Reflect on the strengths and challenges of celebrities or someone that your child looks up to. This is a great exercise for reinforcing the power of using those strengths to overcome challenges just like Vita Coco CEO Michael Kirban talks about in his interview with Braintrust.
  • Use a learning style inventory to better understand learning strategies that are likely to be effective for your child.
  • Work with your child to set short-term and long-term goals. You can read more about how to create meaningful goals with your child by reading our post on SMART goals.
  • Teach your child how to plan. You can illustrate all of the strategies you use throughout the day to make life more manageable. From grocery and to-do lists, to scheduling the chaos of the household, there are lots of opportunities to model planning for your kids. Remember these efforts often go unseen. Talking through when, why, and how you plan will help illustrate effective strategies and highlight how important they are!
  • Talk to your kids about their feelings. Emotional metacognition is every bit as important as academic metacognition! Talking through or writing down feelings, what caused those emotions, and what, if anything, helped any negative feelings fade away, can be a simple but powerful way for kids to learn to regulate their emotions.


Looking for more guidance from an expert? Connect with one of our Braintrust learning specialists today for private tutoring! Braintrust educators have the training and expertise to create a better learning experience for your unique child.

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