Children develop their identity by learning what they like about their environment, their way of dressing, their way of relating to others and the world. For children to develop an identity of their own, parents, the children’s earliest programmers, must sponsor this development of identity. You do this by being aware of your child’s actions and behaviors, and what those tell you about him/her.
For example if your child has a cluttered room, and has to save everything, you probably have a sentimental child that doesn’t like to part with things. If you cleaned your child’s room and threw away “the junk” that they had too much of, you might be ignoring who your child is as a person.
Children, not unlike adults, show their identity in many ways. They show it through the pictures in their room, the friends they associate with, their dress, food choices, activities, etc. They are giving us clues about who they are, as well as taking from us certain things they admire and incorporating those into their identity. Many parents, because of a lack of awareness, forget to ask children important questions that can reveal clues about their child’s belief and value system, and really help instill in them a healthy sense of self.
For example, Miriam didn’t like her daughter’s taste in clothing, because it was different than hers, and she wasn’t taught in her family to have her own identity. Every holiday she would buy her daughter what she liked, and the daughter wouldn’t wear it. Mom would be disappointed, and her daughter felt guilty. Leigh, the child, read magazines that mom disapproved of. Mom would get angry that her daughter was reading the magazine. However, Mom never thought to ask her daughter what she liked about the magazine. That would give a clue as to why she was reading it. Mom simply didn’t know to do this.
I asked my son the other day what he liked so much about sports, and got clues to his personality. It was great. He liked the teamwork, the goal-setting, the movement, the success. This not only tells you about sports, it tells you about the child. Emotional awareness is becoming aware of who your child is, and offering them support in growing that self into a very well formed identity that will offer them the ability to make positive choices and decisions in their lives.
To sponsor this healthy identity you need to:
- Be aware of your child’s actions and behaviors and what that tells you about them.
- Ask questions about why they chose a topic, or picked an outfit, or read a certain book or magazine. Ask objectively without judgment.
- Give them choices about activities they would like to participate in.
- Offer them food and clothes choices, within reason of course.
- Compliment them on their personal style.
- Listen to their ideas openly, and don’t force your ideas on them.
- Offer them suggestions, without controlling their ideas and behaviors.
- Make sure you know your identity, and have the confidence to let your child have theirs without criticism and judgment.
- Create activities that help them identify who they are. Recently my daughters made collages. They cut out pictures of everything that symbolized them, and then reviewed each others. Then they personalized it even more and hung them over their bed.
- Have them create a family party or one with some friends. Ask them to plan it and design what they want. What kind of food and music atmosphere would they like?
Sally Sacks, M.Ed is a licensed psychotherapist, with 20 years of experience, counseling individuals, children, families and couples. Sally is the author of How to Raise the Next President, a groundbreaking parents’ guide to teaching and instilling in their kids the qualities they’ll need to be happy, successful and productive, no matter which path they choose in life. For more information, visit Sally’s website at www.sallysacks.com.