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Encouraging your child’s identity

March 9, 2017
Patrick Ward , MOV Parent

Who our children become is important to parents, and the level of this importance is seen in how much time, money and effort parents devote to their kids. I put "who" instead of "what" because "what" our kids become is limited to doing - what they do for a career, for a hobby, etc. Who our children become is much broader than this, and includes how they think, act, and what they stand for in their lives. Parents have a huge impact on this. Thinking about your own child(ren), aren't you more concerned with "who" they become than "what" they become?

As a kid, my grandmother (who is 101!) would always say "Remember who you are" whenever she said goodbye to me. In fact, she still says it. I was confused by this advice as a child, and I remember thinking "Does she think I'll forget my name or something?"

Since then, we've had a conversation about it, and no she didn't think that. Instead, she was telling me to intentionally think about who I am, and that my thoughts and actions reflect what kind of person I am being. It was about my faith, my beliefs; what our family held as important priorities in life.

There's a passage in the Bible that says, "Point your kids in the right direction, and when they're old they won't be lost." This is about more than making sure they get a good education and know all the "right" people for a successful career. Its about what kind of human being your child is growing up to become. Kahlil Gibran, a world renowned poet, wrote about this in his poem "On Children" by saying:

"Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you."

How do we do this? How do we encourage our children to grow into their best Selves? The foundational goal for parents in working towards this is to provide their child(ren) with love and security. Its a balance of acceptance with firm expectations that point towards how you want them to behave. You have to give them acceptance that is not conditional, or based on the belief that they should think like you, learn like you, or see the world like you see it. Instead, its accepting that they have their own unique way of being and they have their own set of talents and abilities that they are bringing to the world. We all have to accept that our children are not miniature versions of ourselves, and are not our second chance for a "do over" in life. Instead, they are their own person - they'll have some similarities to you, but they aren't you!

This challenging task of encouraging our children's formation of their own identity is VERY important. We have to give them permission to be themselves before they can learn from us; our success and our mistakes. Otherwise our kids will believe they have to be just like us, and will be doomed to repeat our mistakes. Or, they will believe that they have to fit in to be accepted. In doing this, they will betray themselves and lose their identity completely.

Brene Brown, author of "Rising Strong," encourages parents to create a safe place for our children to be themselves. In her discussion on raising strong and resilient children she says one of the most powerful experiences she had was asking middle-school children the difference between belonging and fitting in. They said fitting in is when you want to be part of something and belonging is when people want you just as you are: "If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, it's fitting in." Its sad to think how many of us have just tried to fit in, and have never felt that sense of belonging. Don't let that happen to your child!

So give your kids the confidence that they belong! Study your children, and help them identify how they learn, what they are good at, how they should treat themselves and others. Let your children know that they are important for who they are, and so is everyone around them. Train them to treat others with that same perspective. Treat them in such a way that they can go into the world with confidence in who they are.

Patrick Ward, Ph.D. is a marriage and family therapist in Parkersburg. Visit his website at patrickwardphd.com

 
 

 

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