My little girl twirls in front of me showing off her new dress and hair in a pony tail. Words of praise and affirmation shower upon her; she grins and dances off ready for her day. As my daughters have grown up this little scene has been repeated many times though these days it is more like, “Does this look okay?” Girls – young and old – like to know they look good.
But as my girls grow older there is more to accepting themselves than just accepting the way they were made on the outside. Each of my girls, each of my children really cause this isn’t a girl/boy thing, each of my kids are made different – they look different on the outside, and they are different on the inside.
- They have different skills and abilities
- They communicate differently
- create differently
- recharge differently
- learn differently
- make friends differently
- love differently
- hurt differently
- like different clothes, music, art, sport, books, movies…
Everything about them is different from each other – and they are different from their friends as well. Each person is made uniquely – of course there are our friends who are ‘like us’ in this way or that way but we are each a unique package – inside and out. As my girls glance at themselves in the mirror and learn to accept their bodies – they also need to learn to accept the other parts of themselves as well. They may not be able to climb the same mountain as their sister, but they can wave to each other from their own mountain top. And this is true for my boys as well.
Two lessons are very important to learn:
- Stop comparing yourself with others – The problem with comparing ourselves with others is that we always internalise that difference to be a weakness in ourselves. We need to rejoice in the strengths of others – and acknowledge our own strengths as well.
- Know yourself – Know your strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. Know your talents, passions and the things that motivate you. Know how you recharge and make friends. Know what makes you nervous or excited. Know how you communicate in conflict, and when you most feel loved. Know your style, your favourite colour, your favourite outfit! These things are you – and yes, they grow and change as we grow older and mature, but we need to know who we are, our kids need to know who they are, as a person regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in.
I’m not sure which lesson needs to come first but both lessons need to be learnt – and learnt well.
How can parents help their children know who they are?
- Embrace their uniqueness. We all know that we should never say “you should be like your brother!” But can we actively embrace and encourage those things that aren’t like that brother? Our children will receive information as much by what isn’t said, as by what is said.
- Be prepared to get pushed outside your comfort zone. Though our children have elements of our personality and other traits, they are their own person. They will like things, need things, seek out things that are uncomfortable to us – we need to find a way to walk beside them, share their life, even when we may be uncomfortable.
- Know your child – see the uniqueness and find ways for them to grow in those things.
Our children have a lot to learn in their childhoods – and as they grow older it is a confusing time – but if we are okay with who they are, and we tell them so, they will start to be comfortable about themselves as well. As I reflect on my children’s late teen years I think these are some of the biggest lessons that they work through, and that I encourage them in. Be who you are! You are great! You aren’t them – you are you! I see great potential! I love that about you! There are many quizzes to help you ‘know who you are’:
- Personality Types
- Love languages
- Learning styles
- Multiple Intelligences
- Colour analysis
And then there are the social media pop-quizzes to see if you are like this movie-character, or person from history, or flower or something that reflects the flavour of the moment online!! (Obviously I put very little store in these tests, but my kids like doing them for a laugh!!) But these other assessment quizzes can be helpful. They can give us clues to how our kids tick – and as we start to understand them we can use that knowledge to help them understand themselves.
- Do they need to learn flexibility because they are resistant to change
- Do they need to learn how to initiate conversation because meeting people is hard
- Do they need to learn how to withdraw so they get some recharge time
- Do they need to learn that it is okay to scribble and draw notes instead of writing a systematic outline
- Do they need to learn to say no – or to say yes and be stretched
Just because it is a ‘part of who they are’ doesn’t mean it will come naturally or easily to them. Children are receiving subtle messages to conform to a society-approved model, and if they are different than that – and each of us are in some way – then it is hard to find the true north on the internal compass and be true to who you really are. This is what parents are for. We need to see, approve and encourage who our kids are.
My father was central to encouraging me in who I was as a teenager – I knew I was as an individual. My parents encouraged me in my uniqueness. I also knew that I was loved in the family – I was a Heiniger and nothing was going to change that. I also knew that I was loved by God – and nothing was going to change that either. I was made by God, loved by God, Jesus died for me and the Holy Spirit came to help me. My identity in Christ is something that grew over time, but was a part of the solid foundation my parents gave me. I want to give these things to my kids too – each unique one of them.
It is as our kids know who they are – both internally and where they fit in society – that they can step out with confidence. They can handle peer pressure, they can confront challenges, they can face new situations, they can grow, and they can find their place in the world.