It’s important that our kids feel loved and accepted by us. But what’s most important is that they learn to love and accept themselves. Within this vein, it’s imperative their sense of individuality is nurtured so they are free to express themselves in congruence with their own identity.
That can sometimes get out of hand as children don’t necessarily accept that it’s not alright to go everywhere dressed as a princess or pirate. There has to be some level of healthy boundary placed upon this, yet if we encourage children to express and embrace their individuality when they are young the chance they’ll develop higher self-esteem as a teenager is much greater.
This is particularly pertinent, given that most teenagers choose to rebel against their parents and find innovative ways to express their personality be that from something as tame as septum piercing (which is in your ear) or as strong as a tattoo.
Today, many young people are suffering from the effects of low self-esteem and parents are very aware of the impact childhood experiences can have on their child’s emotional development and wellbeing – meaning we are much more mindful in consideration of how our child’s ego develops, and the risks to it, should our child not feel validated, heard, or able to express themselves.
The reality is that creating high self-esteem in children is very much like baking a cake; you need the right ingredients in order to the cake to rise… yet, what are the ingredients, and how can we encourage our children to feel strong as individuals with high self-esteem if we feel lacking in this area ourselves?
The answer is never simple, yet it all comes down to the idea of self-acceptance. If you were to be a fly on the wall in most therapist’s offices, no doubt you would hear about how as children people were made to feel a certain way – and as a result, this is where they feel their problems stem from.
The validity of this can be questioned, as ultimately we are all responsible for our own circumstances in the here and now, yet there’s certainly a link between success in adulthood and empowerment in childhood… therefore, the key advice is to offer choices and options that empower the child to make the decision for themself.
Admittedly, the options might be do you prefer this black t-shirt or this grey t-shirt, rather than giving complete free choice – but the fact they have a choice will make them feel like they are heard and this feeling of not being heard or validated is at the forefront of most adult issues in the sense of emotional wellbeing… so, with this in mind, the best way to ensure a sense of individuality in your children so they’ll grow into emotionally stable adults is to offer them choices and never force something on them; but to offer the consequences associated with a particular outcome.
For instance, “yes, you can dress like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle to go to the funeral, but it will suggest that you aren’t sad and that will make other people feel sad, because they might think you don’t care… therefore, it might be better to wear this nice black shirt, as this way people will be better able to connect with you and see you feel the same sadness they do”.
Then, to enhance a sense of individuality, you could suggest a small touch of something that expresses who they are – such as their favourite colour socks or a particular hair bobble. Then, remind them that with Halloween coming up they can go all out and create a really extravagant costume that’s at their whim!