Personalities start shining through in our kids from an early age. Before we know it, we see glimmers of their sense of humour, their cheekiness, stubborn streaks and even the fuses that spark their temper. According to babycentre, it’s around the four month mark when we start to get insights into these personality traits. And so begins a long adventure into discovering what type of grownups our little humans will turn into. But in a world which can sometimes squash any kind of individuality, how can we empower our children to be true to themselves when they’re told they should do otherwise?
Every day our kids grow, they become more of who they will be as adults. Very quickly, the things they like (and don’t like!) become apparent and unique quirks and identities start to shine through. For some, there may be similarities with us as their parents and their peers, but for others, the things that make them the person they are may be very different to others. Your kids may even have a totally different personality to what you expected – and that’s totally OK. Our role as caregivers is to make sure that we do everything in our power to support, encourage and help them to embrace the things that make them uniquely themselves. Helping our kids to embrace individuality, whatever that may look like, is a powerful tool for building self-esteem and confidence.
Forget the stereotypes
We all have common misconceptions about what it’s going to be like to raise children. Often these are things that have been passed down to us from our own parents our grandparents, and breaking the cycle can be tricky. Even if we know academically it isn’t always the case, there’s still part of us that thinks raising boys will be all about trucks, bugs and dirt, while raising girls will be all about ballet and glitter.
When you’re empowering your children to embrace individuality, forget those age old stereotypes that are engrained in us. Maybe you’ve got a daughter that’s obsessed with chess (hello, have you watched The Queen’s Gambit?! Not recommended for the kids but GREAT grown up TV), or perhaps you’ve a son who wants to explore dance. Try not to impose your views about what kids *should* do on your children and let them explore what they want to.
It’s important to be your kid’s biggest fan too, without being suffocating, especially if they’re trying something that isn’t commonplace. If they’re trying something a bit different, they’re more than likely to come up against people who make them feel like their individuality is something to be ashamed of. Our encouragement can go a long way to proving to them it isn’t.
Being your child’s biggest cheerleader, getting excited when they’re excited and being proud when they’re proud of something shows that you truly care, not just about their achievements, but about the person they are becoming, which in turn, helps them become more confident in themselves.
Change is gonna come…
As sure as the sun will rise, the things your kids love will change. As they grow and learn, new things will pique their interest. While Minecraft may have been the flavour of the month one day, it could well be Manga and anime the next. Sometimes they come back to things they love, sometimes they move on for good. But as parents, we can’t push it. They might want to try a new style of clothes, or they might want to experiment with alternative types of music.
They might want to wear clothes that don’t “match”. As frustrating as it might be to keep up with what they’re into (and as expensive as it can be, let’s be honest), rolling with it is the best way to support your kids individuality, in turn empowering them to embrace individuality themselves.
It’s about exposure too. While we shouldn’t push our kids into the things we want them to like or people we want them to become, giving them the chance to try new and different things is crucial for helping them discover and embrace individuality. Be ready to move on if you try something and they don’t like it but try a variety of different restaurants, community events and places. Exposing them to different classes and extracurricular activities they might want to try out. You might go once and never return. But you might uncover a new passion.
Through encouraging them to try and experience new things we find out so much about them as individuals. And who knows, maybe their next favourite thing is something you love too.
Encouragement is key
We’re lucky that we live in an environment where our kids ambitions are never too big. Whatever they dream of doing, we can encourage them to do it. Try not to discourage your kids dreams and individuality, no matter how enormous or out there they may seem. There is nothing more powerful than having a grown-up who believes in you or supports the wild and wonderful ideas you have. Equally, there is nothing more crushing than a grown-up who suggests, even inadvertently, that you might not be able to do something, or that something you’re interested in is weird or unworthy. When your child is expressing the things they’re excited about – whether it’s clothes, or hairstyles, future careers, books or unusual endeavours, try to be open minded and supportive. Try not to worry about what others are saying about our tiny humans but be there for them completely.
Remember too that every word matters when it comes to the tiny sponges that are kids. They pick up on everything, so it’s important to be careful with the things that we say. Even things that we consider as a “joke” can have a lasting impact on our tiny humans, so positive encouragement is crucial for helping kids embrace individuality.
Dealing with adversity
No matter how supportive and encouraging we are as parents, there will always come a time when our kids encounter adversity for their individuality. The truth is we live in a world that is full of judgement and sometimes these judgements are not kind, especially when it comes to people who are doing things their own way or going against the grain.
Speaking to Kids In The House psychiatrist Ned Hallowell explains that the best way to learn to deal with adversity is to have a connected childhood: “One of my first rules is it’s fine to worry, just never worry alone. Teach your kids that. Say, “When you’ve got a problem, talk to me about it, or talk to someone about it. We’ll figure out how to solve it.”
“It is through connection that you deal with adversity, and if you offer your child and create for your child a connected childhood, it will naturally become second nature how to deal with adversity. The studies are very clear. Kids who have spunk and grit and bounce back are kids who feel connected, who have that sense of no matter what happens, I’m never alone. I never have to worry alone. So, it all comes back to this force of connection. If you give that to your child, your child will naturally be resilient, will naturally be able to deal with the many curveballs that life will inevitably throw at him or her.”
Your children need and deserve love, acceptance and respect regardless of what they do with their hair, who they love, or which career they wish to pursue. It’s our job as parents to make sure we do everything we can to help our children embrace their individuality so they can become confident, happy and whole people.