On one hand we’re told to get young kids ready for the “real” world. Toughen them up to fit in and adjust to what’s expected. Yet, on the other hand, we’re told not to squelch what makes them feel special and what makes them different or unique. We often tell kids it’s a good thing to follow the beat of their own drum.
These two approaches (and the messages they send to kids and parents) seem opposite and confusing. Which approach should you follow?
Follow both. That gets your kids the best from both approaches. Sometimes fitting in is necessary. You have to push kids to learn new behaviors and squelch their desires to express themselves and suppress their quirky nature. The faster they learn new behaviors to fit in, the less others will be mean or pick on them. This is the basis of learning better social skills, for example at school. Teach the skills they need to know step-by-step and rehearse the new behaviors frequently at home so they can start to use them in the “real” world.
Yet, there are times kids should just be themselves. So help your child “find his people.” These are other kids who are like-minded, share interests, or share a quirky nature. Let them just be who they are in smaller groups. In my office, kids can be themselves, but we always talk about what behaviors go best with what situations. Sometimes we talk about being two people. The person at school or at soccer practice versus the person we really are when at home or when around trusted friends. Adults can relate to this as well.
The sooner you train your kids to adopt different styles of behaving – and teach them which situations to use them in – the more confidence they will have navigating in the world. It will also help protect their inner spirit and allow that spirit to flourish in safer, more accepting situations.
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