THINK ABOUT THIS
By Reggie Joiner
Who I am is determined by a combination of things like:
My past experiences
My significant relationships
My personal interests
My spiritual beliefs
My personality traits
My physical characteristics
My natural talents
Each one of these things plays a role in shaping your child’s identity. Sure, there may be a host of people who have things in common with your child in each of these areas, but no one has the same combinations as your individual son or daughter. So, as parents, these issues become a way for us to think about the uniqueness of each of our children, and to help them begin a healthy journey toward understanding who they are. Here are a few suggestions to create an atmosphere in your home that celebrates the value of uniqueness.
Reinforce the Idea of Uniqueness Verbally
How often do you actually say something that encourages a sense of uniqueness in your children? It may seem strange but when my kids were younger, I would say things like, “Sarah, I just want you to know that you are my favorite second-born daughter.” She would reply with a sigh, “Dad, I’m your only second-born daughter!” I would smile and say, “Exactly.” There are a number of ways you can be intentional about saying things to your kids that add to their sense of uniqueness. Be specific. For example instead of saying, “You are a good writer,” you might say something like, “I can tell by your writing that you think in a very detailed way.”
Capture Significant Memories
Your past really does influence your understanding of who you are. Memory is a powerful force. There are significant moments that should be highlighted through photography, symbols, journals, etc. An author friend of mine recently talked about how he decided to collect things to decorate his home that actually reminded him of specific defining moments in his past. It makes sense when you remember that your past experiences are part of what makes your story unique.
Share Family Stories to give a Sense of their Unique Heritage
When my kids were younger, I heard a psychologist talk about how critical it was for children to hear stories about their parents and grandparents. He explained how it helped them contextualize their lives, and find a sense of connection and identity from the bigger story of their family. There are a number of ways to collect family stories. One way is to start a tradition on family holidays to have relatives tell stories about you and your parents from their perspective. It gives your children a unique view of you and themselves they would not otherwise have.
Expose them to Different Cultures and People Groups
If you live in the country, visit the city. If you live in the city, visit the country. Develop relationships with neighbors or associates who come from different ethnic backgrounds. Eat in a restaurant where the owners are from another culture and speak a different language. Ask them creative questions to find out something interesting about their culture. Watch documentaries together that broaden their understanding of how other people live. Teach them to respect the diversity around them.
Experiment with a Variety of Activities
Again, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to continue to help your kids discover their strengths and passion. It’s okay for your kids to try out a number of things before they find the things they love to do and what that are naturally good at doing. When they are young, let them experience different kinds of camps, play different sports, and experiment with art and music to discover their passions. I know parents who have let their older kids spend the day with different friends at work so they can get a better understanding of a variety of occupations. Remember, you are helping them narrow their focus to the few things that they will ultimately invest their life.
What other ideas do you have to teach kids about uniqueness?
Get connected to a wider community of parents at TheParentCue.org.
There isn’t a more difficult time in life to navigate differences and embrace uniqueness than in middle school. During this time, it can sometimes be hard to see that the things that make us unique are hints at what we can excel at. Especially if we ‘re constantly being teased or pressured to conform to what the popular group deems as “normal.”
One thing we can all do to help our teenagers embrace their uniqueness is to model the way. We can show them what it looks like to embrace the unique characteristics about themselves.
Think about your unique characteristics. How have you recognized, used, talked about, and celebrated them? How difficult was it for you in middle school to embrace these unique qualities? Were you bullied, teased, or ashamed of them? What changed that?
This week, share the answers to these questions with your teenager.
Maybe in the car you say . . .
•Hey, did I ever tell you what middle school was like for me?
•Hey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a bad habit of __________ about myself. So I’ve decided instead of ____________, I am going to change the way I talk about it. I need your help!
•Hey, remind me when we get home to show you a [picture, figurine, trophy, etc.] that I received when I as in middle school.
One of the best gifts you can give your teenager is to normalize their feelings around their unique qualities. This conversation can be the first step towards creating an atmosphere in your home that celebrates the value of uniqueness.