As your child grows and discovers who they are, it will be one of the most important experiences of their life. Discovering yourself and all that lies within you is something that is complicated, even for adults.
For children, it is easier in some ways and more difficult in other ways. What can you as a parent do to facilitate the process of self-discovery, and what steps can you take to ensure that your child grows, learns, and becomes a successful, self-aware adult?
Components of Self-Discovery
Discovering oneself is not a one-step action. It is a process, and takes some individuals longer than others to complete. There are many components, and if you can learn and become familiar with them, it will help your child because they will learn by example. Here are some of the more important components of self-discovery.
1. Know who you really are
The first component to your child’s self-discovery is for them to know who they really are. Find teachable moments when your child’s personality is coming out strong, and point it out to them. Be sure this is done in a positive way and with the right timing, as treating this in a negative way can backfire and cause low self-esteem. Always let your words be encouraging and your criticism be constructive. Point out the qualities of your child to them in order for them to get to a point where they can easily recognize and point them out for themselves.
2. Love and value yourself
Not only does your child need to know who they are, but they also need to love and value who they are. Teach your child to embrace themselves, weaknesses and all. The way you model this to your child is going to have the greatest effect on them, even more than your words. Talk to them about loving themselves and choosing to forgive themselves when they have failed their own standards. Teach them to value their strong points, and to be able to laugh at their weak points.
3. Admire your strong points
Teach your child to admire their own strong points. Everyone has strong points… areas where they are unstoppable. As you recognize these areas in your child, point them out to them. Tell them when you notice that they have been patient with their younger siblings on a long-term basis. Remind them frequently about the qualities you admire in them. Help them understand the importance of doing this for themselves often. If your child can learn to admire their own qualities, it will give them the confidence to succeed at whatever they become.
4. Work on your weaknesses
Help your child see the value of working on weak areas in their lives. Along with self-love, teach your child to give themselves constructive criticism. This is something that even many adults have a difficult time doing. To try harder in your weak areas does not mean you hate yourself, it means that you are just like everyone else, with areas that you can improve in. If your child is feeling frustration or any other negative feelings, teach them to search themselves for what they personally can do to change the situation. This may not be applicable in all situations, but it can certainly help in many of them.
In all these components of self-discovery, one of the most important factors is that of your example. Teach your child to get to know themselves, love themselves, and embrace their strong points. But you should be the first to do this for yourself. Live in such a way that your child will readily see how you are modelling these steps for them, and it will last them a lifetime.
Teach Your Child to Notice Their Differences
Your child is a unique being, created in an amazing way. By embracing all of their own differences, they will see that they are special and wonderful for who they are. Your child needs to be encouraged to be themselves, and to figure out what makes them different. Once they realize their differences, they should be encouraged to celebrate this knowledge.
Does your child have an amazing talent for playing the piano? Are they especially helpful to others on a consistent basis? Do they make the funniest faces you have ever seen, or have an odd but interesting hobby? Let your child know that these things that make them unique also make them special.
To teach your child about the importance of individuality, go outside and take a look around. Show them the flowers, and ask them to find two that are absolutely identical. Tell them that people are the same way, and that we are lucky that every person is different from each other and that it is the way it should be. Let them be aware of the differences they hold that makes them special. This lesson will never go to waste.
How to Ensure You Are Not Living Vicariously through Your Child
As a parent, it can be a temptation to live vicariously through your child, and to try and live the life you wish you had through them. This is a dangerous situation, because the child who is controlled by their parents will end up resenting the parents, and even resenting themselves. It can be something that we do without thinking… finding ourselves making this mistake without even trying to do it intentionally.
What are the dangers of living vicariously through one’s child? What are the signs, how can you prevent yourself from falling into this trap, and how can you change it when you see it happening?
1. The dangers of living vicariously through your child
The dangers of forcing your child to live their life in your way are many. One of them is the damage that will happen between the parent and child, and sometimes this gets to a point that can be almost irreparable. Children instinctively know when you are forcing your desires and expectations on them, and they will resent you for it.
They may also begin to despise themselves because a parent who tries to make their child live someone else’s life is unintentionally signalling their disapproval of the child’s true self. Being forced to live an unauthentic life also brings stress upon a child as they try to navigate all the negative feelings it brings. It also stamps out the child’s ability to discover themselves, which is an important part of growing to become a confident adult.
2. Signs that you have gone too far
There are various signs that you might be living vicariously through your child. One of them is if there are constant arguments about activities between you and your children. Every child gets bored, even of their favourite activities. However, if your child has consistently said they do not want to continue an activity and you persist without a good reason, this is a warning sign.
Another sign is low self-esteem in a child. This can be caused by many things, but if your child displays this symptom, dig deeper to find out if your child feels unaccepted due to unreasonable expectations on your part. If a child makes negative comments about themselves, this can be another sign. Yet another is when you as the parent feel stress at the thought of your child quitting an activity or changing their involvement. It is wonderful to feel proud of your child’s accomplishments, but when there becomes an overwhelming drive in you to keep them following a particular path, it may have gone too far.
3. How to stop yourself
How can you as a parent prevent yourself from living vicariously through your child or children? First, become a whole person yourself. This may sound obvious, but if you are living with wounds from your childhood, and feeling bitter about opportunities you missed, you may end up subconsciously pushing your own unfulfilled expectations onto your child.
Also, you need to make sure you are currently fulfilling your own goals. Did you feel destined to be a ballet superstar as a child and regret that your parents didn’t have enough money to give you lessons? Instead of insisting that your daughter take ballet lessons against her will, why not try out some adult ballet classes for yourself? You may never become a superstar, but you will most certainly feel a sense of accomplishment. And even better than that, you will be a positive role model for your child of an adult who takes the time and energy to pursue their interests, and live a whole and healthy life.
4. How to change things
If you see yourself falling into the trap of living vicariously through your child, stop and think. Instead of allowing the desperate drive for your child’s success to overwhelm you and make you want to control everyone around you, take a deep breath. Think about your ideas of what success truly means. Ponder the true meaning of the life you wish your child to live… deeply fulfilled and living out their own calling in a way that is true and authentic to who they are as a unique individual. You will soon see that what is important is not what you desire for your child, but what they envision for themselves.
Self-Esteem and Your Child’s Self-Discovery
How does self-esteem help your child discover who they truly are? It gives them the confidence to believe in themselves. It gives them the courage to step away from the pack mentality and pursue a life that appeals to them, rather than living their days for the approval of others.
When you build your child’s self-esteem, you create a world changer. Positive self-esteem changes every part of a child, and makes them more productive in their daily life. This will help them succeed to a greater extent, which has the full circle effect of then building their self-esteem even more.
How do you go about building your child’s self-esteem? The first step is to deal with your own internal voices. Choose to accept your child no matter how different their goals are from yours. Love them completely and encourage them to be authentic and fully themselves. Give your child sincere compliments on their character and the traits that make them special.
To take it a step further, begin growing your child’s self-esteem when they are newborn. This can be done by treating them with gentleness at all times, responding to their cries immediately and meeting all their needs in a timely manner. This sets the foundation for strong self-esteem, and the knowledge that they are important and valuable.
What are the enemies of healthy self-esteem in your child? Criticism can crush a child and prevent them from loving themselves and reaching their goals. If you find yourself being critical in a way that is not constructive, make yourself stop. Don’t let your criticism deplete your child of the ability to love and accept themselves.
Another enemy is perfectionism. Demanding perfection from your children will cause them to feel they can never measure up, and will hurt them to the core. It can also destroy your parent-child relationship in a way that may never be repaired.
Learn the Questions to Ask Your Child
By knowing what to talk about with your child, it can help you greatly in assisting them with their own self-discovery. Some questions that can help your child in learning about themselves are, “How would I describe myself?”, “What makes me the most happy?”, and “What do I get really excited about?”
Some other great questions to ask are, “What do I like about myself?”, “What compliments do I hear often from others?” and “What are my goals?” When your child is young their answers will obviously be more simplistic, but as they grow older this thought process will become natural for them and translate to bigger goals, dreams and self-discoveries.
Finding the Balance between Happily Busy and Overloaded
For our children to find themselves, they must remain engaged and in a state of personal growth. This happens naturally in children, and does not always need any prompting on the part of the parents. As parents, our mistake can be in keeping our children too busy for their own good. How can a parent figure out a good balance between busy and engaged, and overloaded and overwhelmed?
First you need to think about all the activities your family participates in on a daily and weekly basis. Make a list so that you have a visual picture of what is going on. Be sure to include every activity of every family member, and keep in mind that some may overlap when all family members attend one event. Decide what your priorities are, and how much free time you want each child to have.
Remember that much learning and personal growth occur when children are left to their own devices. If they are going to stretch their imaginations and use their creativity, they will need the opportunity to get bored and have the time to think. If your schedule looks overly busy, then make a decision as to what you are willing to cut out, and what is non-essential.
Learn to detect the warning signs in your child that indicate that they may be overly busy. If your child seems burnt out, low on energy, lacking enthusiasm, or angry, keep your eyes open to find out why. It is unhealthy for a child to be so busy that they become stressed out about it. Your child may be discovering themselves and enjoying the activities they are involved in, but if they become burnt out emotionally or physically, it will not do them any good. In fact, it will have an opposite effect and have a negative impact on their life.
Before eagerly fitting in any new activity, pull out your current schedule and decide what you will remove for the new activity to fit in. Something must go, and preferably it will not be necessary free time. Avoid the temptation to cram your child’s schedule full of things that will be more destructive rather than contributing to their own good.
Helping your child discover who they are is a big task. It is our job to guide our children in the process, yet at some point the responsibility will shift to them in order for them to grow in the way they need to. There are so many things that you as a parent can do to prepare your child for this task. Review the things you need to remember, and keep the list by your side should you need to refer to it.
Helping your child discover themselves may be a challenging task, but it yields exciting outcomes. You will never regret the time and energy you took to complete this. If you ever lose your energy in the process, remind yourself that in a few short years you will be looking at your child as an adult, and seeing your hard work pay off. Parenting your child in a way that promotes self-discovery is something that will always yield a great return. Help your child to become the best of themselves that they can possibly be.