All of us need a pat on the back now and then to help us through difficult times or situations, but children thrive and learn from it. Meaningful encouragement can help them realise their full potential.
The great Spanish cellist, Pablo Casals, once said that, “The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him.” Children need to hear about their uniqueness from the people they trust and that is one of the most important jobs of parents.
Don’t pressure them
In addition to telling them that they are unique and special, we need to take certain steps. The first might be to step back a little and let go of our own expectations that we have placed on the children in our care. Children have enough pressure on them in today’s hectic society without having to live up to our over-sized expectations of them. It is important to establish good guidelines and structure for behaviour, but we have to be watchful that we are not pushing them to conform just because it might make our lives easier.
Ask questions and listen
Another way to encourage their individuality is to ask children questions and actually wait and listen to their response. Their opinions might be a little naïve and we don’t have to agree with them, but showing that we care about what they think will give them more confidence to explore ideas on their own.
Help them to explore their interests
If they are particularly interested in star gazing or geography we can show an interest in this activity and maybe buy them a small telescope, a globe or an atlas. One of the best ways to encourage their interest and uniqueness is to take them to the library so that they can further explore their newfound interests.
Expose them to a wide variety of experiences
To encourage individuality, we also need to expose them to different things. A trip to the museum to see both ancient and modern art might just spark their creativity and originality. Expose them to different things like a variety of cultural and musical genres or play some jazz or classical music at home. They may groan at first, but an early introduction to these other forms of art and music will tell them that it’s okay to enjoy different things.
Create a non-judgmental safety zone
One of the most important things that we can do for children of all ages is to create a safety zone for children to express their individuality without fear of judgment. Activities like an extra-curricular art class or piano lessons will let them know that’s it’s okay to express themselves through a variety of art and musical forms. Children need our encouragement and support if they are going to fully share their gifts and individuality with the world.
Be aware of peer pressure to conform
In helping our children to discover their individual gifts, the greatest challenge may be to overcome the relentless waves of peer pressure that call on them to be, look, and act like everybody else. Peer pressure starts at a very young age and its intensity only increases as children grow up. Children have a strong need to fit in, to belong, and to be part of something outside of themselves. This is not always a bad thing, but fitting in may force a child to stifle their new ideas and interests just to conform to the wishes of their peer group.
Parents should aim to help their children find a balance between acceptance amongst their friends while still valuing and celebrating their individuality. And it is this balance that will allow children to be happy, healthy and willing to share their uniqueness with the world.
As parents, we soon realise that every child is unique and has their own gifts and talents to bring to the world. Our job is to help bring out those gifts, to let the child know that they are unique, and to gently encourage them to develop their own individuality.
Mike Martin is a freelance writer specialising in wellness and motivation.