“We are all the same, in that we are all unique.” With that let me start my 21st blog on the #blogchatterA2Z challenge – U is for Unique. Each one of us is unique in our looks, appearance, habits, characteristics, nature and behavior. We are a combination of our personality, perspectives, attitudes, experience, knowledge and emotions. We have different talents, goals, hobbies, passions and tastes. The mix of all these becomes a person – each different from the other.
Despite that, as a society we prefer everyone to conform to the same norms, behavior and attitudes. Perhaps because it does not lead to confrontations. Or maybe just the fact that being part of a crowd gives one some sort of a security. There is too much risk in doing something different and then perhaps failing or getting negative comments from others. The worry around what will people say or do keeps people from being different. There is also the herd mentality that if the majority is doing something that may be right. This fixation to conform to the social norms also percolates into our parenting. Rather than recognizing our children for their individuality, we push them into conforming with our world view and stereotypes.
A simple and glaring example is the dominant hand – whether we use our right or left is an inborn trait. But a generation or two ago – children who used their left were forced to use their right just because the majority are right dominant. It was common to tie their left wrists with a handkerchief so that they would start using their right hand. So obsessed are we to become one of the crowd that we are willing to defy something given by nature. Stifling stereotypes like “boys don’t cry” or “girls are weaker” or defining who does what or what sexual preferences does one have are all results of the society’s need to conform.
My appeal to you as parents is to celebrate and encourage our children’s uniqueness. By understanding what makes your child tick and supporting him or her to explore to who they really are and find their talents, we help them reach their full potential. Give your children a safe atmosphere to explore, make mistakes, take risks an develop their confidence. Let’s look at some of the ways in which we can do that:
Understand your child: the first step to nurturing individuality is to understand your children and let them understand themselves. Allow them to express themselves and follow closely what seems to interest them – it could be arts or sciences or a mix of both. Understand their nature – are they quiet and shy or outgoing. Do they like to speak in public or maybe they prefer writing. Do they give up easily or are they likely to persevere. Ask them what they feel or like about things, events and so on. Listen with acceptance, only then will they be open enough to share. Do not try to mold your child into the person you want him to be – rather let him become who he is.
Encourage them to explore their talents and interests: once you begin to understand your child, encourage him to follow what he likes. These initials interests could easily become their passion or calling in life if encouraged. We noticed our son loves to read science and geography so we brought him more and more books on that and he seems to be thriving on those. Expose children to various opportunities, activities and sports to help them find out what they like. If they give up on some activity too early – try to find out why – ask them to give a minimum amount of time and then see what is stopping them. It may be real disinterest, or it could be something else. You can also expose older children to various professions for them to figure out what they like.
Be their cheerleader: family is the first level of support for children. As your children strive to excel in any field, become their cheerleader. Attend their events – be it a dance recital or sports performance – attend it even you have to take some time off work. Praise their achievements in front of others. This will help them feel proud of their accomplishments and encourage them to strive even more towards their goals.
Never compare: comparison comes so easily to us. We compare ourselves to others, our kids to others’ kids and we compare siblings and cousins and what not. “do you know how well your cousin did in the board exams last year? It is your turn this year – make sure you do at least as well as him.” “Your sister is so calm and easy going, why are you throwing tantrums all the time?” “your friend is so slim, why don’t you eat a little less and try to lose some weight?” All this comparing will only lead to reduced sense of self and a need to conform.
Help them get comfortable in their skin: inevitably, there will be things your children are ashamed of about themselves. Especially, if this is something that is not considered cool or fashionable at school or maybe even ridiculed at. It could be physical appearances, the way they speak or how they think. Help your child accept their drawbacks. Work with them to improve upon them if possible – say attitudes or habits etc. But if it is a physical appearance or condition, help them learn to move despite that. Highlight their other qualities. Perhaps your child is the slowest runner in class but may be a lovely singer. Maybe your child is being teased about wearing spectacles or his stutter. Give them confidence and let them know these are part of their personality and they should not only accept themselves as they are but also to proudly tell the world to accept them as they are.
Help them overcome peer pressure: as children grow, peer pressure becomes the single most important force that makes them conform. Children tend to stay in groups and there are clear ideas of what is hip and what is not. Who are the leaders, who are the followers and who are the losers. Bullying also emerges. Thus it is important for parents to develop a deep self confidence in our children and help them be proud of whatever person they are. Give them the ability to stand by their views and hold their opinions – irrespective of what the majority believes in. I wrote about this in my blog on courage of conviction as well.
Finally remember that your children are individuals and by letting them accept themselves as they are and encouraging them to go for what they want to do in life, we are helping set the backdrop for an individual who is content with his or her choices and willing to follow their passion.