“Just remember you’re unique, like everyone else!”
Yes, it’s tongue in cheek, but it’s true - how can we show our children to see and appreciate their own and others’ individuality?
An easy place to start is letting our kids choose their own clothes (within reason!). Kids and adults alike tell others about themselves through their clothing, with kids being quite a bit more literal about it than adults. They love to wear their interests right on their sleeves (or rather more often on their tummies). So absolutely, we honor their individuality by letting them wear what they want to wear.
But what can we do about the public feedback loop our kids experience even at a very young age? From the moment we take our kids out of the house, we are all bombarded with messages (subtle and overt) that we are either succeeding or failing to conform to others’ expectations. Combine that feedback loop with the nearly universal human need to feel liked, and maintaining one’s individuality can feel like an onerous daily battle.
That’s why making home a safe place for kids to be themselves is so important. It’s easy to say - but hard to do. Here are a few ways to help make it happen:
Credit proclivities to the individual. Do you find yourself saying, “She’s just like me! [or her dad, or grandma, etc]”? While it can be charming to find family traits in our kids, it doesn’t help them to develop as an individuals. If a child shows an inclination toward something, let her own it - don’t make it something that she’s inheriting from someone else.
Give kids time and space to themselves. The fastest way to discover who we are and what we like is to spend time alone. Giving a child the opportunity to decide for themselves how they are going to spend their time helps them also discover their identity. We can be present but not involved - modeling how to occupy oneself when given time and space. Remember the part about how this is easy to say but hard to do? This is why - don’t give in to them when they start complaining that they’re bored or they want screen time. Too bad, kid. Go figure out what you enjoy doing, and then do it.
Be willing to let them change. It’s easier on the whole to put people, including our kids, into little types and assume they’ll always be that way. It makes them (and therefore life) more predictable. But as our kids grow, they change. The ideas we’ve formed about them have to grow and change too. Letting them change without judgment empowers them to grow into the unique individuals we know they are.