10 Ways to Teach Your Child How to Value Their Uniqueness
Raising children to be healthy adults emotionally and spiritually is hard work for parents. Failing to provide our children with the tools that they need to successfully navigate life leads to adult addictive behaviors and depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 5% of 12-year-olds will experience depression. This number rises to 16% by age 16 years.
Adding to this is the fact that there is very little daily support for our children in avoiding this depression trap. The pressure of our culture to perform, perfect, and succeed and we have the perfect storm for depression. We kiss our children and whisper a prayer as we send them into the world hoping with all of our heart that our efforts have been enough.
And if our child is "different" in any type of way, we must work harder to shield and protect them from the meanness of others.
The answer is not to shield them though. Shielding them and protecting them is only part of the equation. The other half involves building in them a healthy self-esteem and resilience to push through rejection and failure.
If I can see it, then I can be it If I just believe it, there's nothing to it
As someone who has had to learn how to navigate that territory on my own, I have a passion to help children value their own Unique at an early age. As a child, I was never "normal" according to the cultural standards in my family of origin. I had a voracious appetite for knowledge. My mother tells me that most of my teachers described me as "a little sponge" that literally soaked in knowledge. At home, I immersed myself in books.
The result of my appetite was a great report card. And children who hated "the kid who sat up front and had all of the answers." Let the bullying begin.
By the time I hit my teen years, I had figured out that being "smart" in my environment was a liability. I sometimes marvel at adults who think that everyone was raised in an environment where being smart was applauded. I am living proof that this is NOT the case.
I never told my Mother about some of the bullying. I felt so ashamed about it. This is the trap that a lot of children get into when they are bullied. They are embarrassed and afraid to admit to their parents that they are not fitting in. This is why I am also passionate about parents not pressuring their children to fit in and get with the "in crowd." This kind of pressure will drive your child into devaluing their own uniqueness to be popular.
We have come a long way in the last 20 years in sensitizing our culture to this type of subtle bullying. Of course, people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates helped this by using their Unique and geeky abilities to become filthy rich. Success always silences critics.
What happens when your child is not the cool and popular one? Pressure to fit in. As parents, we have a responsibility to equip our children to deal with this pressure.
I don't claim to have all of the answers. But I want to give you 10 ways to teach your children how to stay authentic, love their Unique, and live their Unique.
Responses to rejection. You have to teach your children how to respond confidently to rejection. Rejection only hurts when you accept what is being said to you or about you. Teaching your child to stand up to their critics is an essential skill that will serve them well in their life and their career. Practice scenarios with them so that they have their responses ready when they need it.
Forgive others. Teaching children not to take offense will save them from emotional baggage. When we fail to forgive others for minor offenses, it becomes an energy drain emotionally and mentally. Ruminating about offenses can lead to anger and resentment that is then directed towards other people. Teach your children how to let go of disappointment and hurt. Show them how to let go and move on.
Express frustration. Another essential skill that will serve your children well over their life is learning how to express themselves appropriately when they are frustrated, upset, or angry. The best way to teach this skill is showing them through your own example. Reactive behavior will lead to actions that we live to regret. Showing our children how to remain calm under pressure helps them build a resistance to reactive behavior.
Accept failure. Anyone who has achieved success in life will have many stories to tell you about failure. We don't learn and grow by staying safe and being perfect. We learn and grow when we are under pressure and when we experience failure. Teach your child that failure is not the end of the story. Teach them how to bounce back. Make sure that you are not unintentionally inducing guilt or shame. Build their self esteem when they experience failure and show them their own strength.
Establish healthy boundaries. Dysfunctional behavior comes from people who didn't learn how to respect the boundaries of "me" versus "you." When we feel rejected, we often allow others to violate our boundaries. When we feel hurt, we lash out at others violating their boundaries. Teaching your child to strike a balance and understand their responsibility versus the responsibility of others is an important part of helping them avoid relational dysfunction and unhealthy entanglement.
Love the other. Opposite sex relations are the most difficult to navigate, especially in the teen years. In order to develop into a healthy and whole adult, children must learn how to form healthy, non-sexual relationships with the opposite sex. Failure to do so will leave your child vulnerable to inappropriate behaviors with people of the opposite sex.
Be at peace and content. Emotional upsets often come from our failure to be at peace with ourselves and others. Not learning how to be content can cause us to constantly drive for the ever-elusive "place of happiness." Teaching your child how to be grateful and at peace at all times will eliminate emotional upsets that can lead to inappropriate reactive behavior.
Kill pride. Pride is a trap that leads us to believe that we are "better than" others. Taken too far, we begin to devalue other people which leads to all types of nasty and rude behavior. There is nothing wrong with celebrating and feeling good about achievement. But a consistent pattern of believing you are better than others will turn your child into the BULLY.
Feel secure. Loving Your Unique is all about feeling secure in who you are and how to not follow "the crowd" in what you think, say, and do. When you feel secure, you will use the full range of your talents, gifts, and abilities. When you are insecure, you devalue yourself. Failure to believe in yourself and your own abilities will cause you to give in to others when you should be standing your ground. Teach your children how to live their convictions and not follow "the crowd." Teach them to believe in themselves and how to stand up to the voices of their critic.
Be independent. Independence, the ability to depend on yourself, is the hallmark of a mature person. Immature people are inappropriately dependent on others for things that they can do for themselves. Teaching your child how to stand in their own strength and in their own uniqueness will help them avoid relationships that will devalue them and cause them harm. Help your child understand that they are ENOUGH. And walking in their own Unique is a display of strength even though others may not understand it.
As you can see, this list is not for the faint at heart. Raising emotionally stable and healthy children takes a lot of effort on your part as a parent.
I encourage you to return to my blog regularly to get tips on how to help your child express their Unique.
You only get one chance to be the best parent that you can be. Teach your child to love their unique and live their unique.