How You Help Build Your Child's IdentityMar 31, 2022
If I asked you how you would describe your child, what would you tell me? Would you use words like quiet, shy, very social, smart, easy, challenging, anxious or disorganized? How we think about our child and the words that we use to describe them have more importance than most parents are aware of.
The words that we use to describe our children — how we think about them and what we tell them — become the filter through which we see our child and how they see themselves. And our words and thoughts can play a major factor in shaping their identity.
This past weekend I watched the movie King Richard. If you’re not familiar, it’s a movie about Venus and Serena Williams’ childhood and how they became tennis greats. It was fascinating to see how Venus and Serena were told that they were going to win from a very young age. Yes, they did practice extensively, but their parents were very intentional about building up their daughter’s identities as the best. They intentionally planned for it.
That’s definitely an extreme example, and I know from personal experience to be careful of programming an expectation of a career into our children at an early age, as it can place a tremendous amount of pressure on them. However, awareness of how we talk to our children and the traits that we encourage and affirm in them is critical if we want to intentionally help build our children’s identity and how they see themselves. Now that my children are older, I can see how this actually played out in their lives.
School was relatively easy for my older child. He didn’t have to work very hard to consistently maintain top grades and stay on the high honor roll, and he received a lot of praise and recognition from his grandparents. My younger child, on the other hand, had to work harder in school. Although she consistently did well, it was not at the same level as her brother and she did not receive the same recognition or praise.
One day when I was in the car with my daughter, she referred to her brother as “the smart one”. I could tell by the way she said these words that she was not thinking very highly of herself. It broke my heart to hear this and see her slumped shoulders. I ended up pulling the car over and stopped so I could talk to her.
I told her that although her brother did very well in school, she had skills that he did not have. I reminded her that she had amazing social skills, leadership skills, and organizational skills, and I gave her examples of things she had done. I let her know that those skills were going to serve her very well in life and business, likely more so than just the ability to get good grades.
Looking back, I can still see how my daughter transformed before my eyes. She sat up straighter, her shoulders went back, and she got a look of determination on her face. I continued to remind her of her strengths when the opportunity would arise, and that became how she consistently saw herself. She actively pursued leadership opportunities, and her confidence in social situations grew — it became her identity.
I encourage you to examine how you think about your child, how you might be unintentionally programming an identity that you don’t want for them, and what traits you can intentionally help them build.
I work with my clients to uncover what identities they might be unintentionally and intentionally programming in their children as part of Parenting From Neutral in my New Generation Parenting Program. If you want to learn more, please visit melpeirce.com.
Do you want an easy way to start parenting better? Learn how Power Questions can help! Go to my website at melpeirce.com where you can gain instant access to a free Parent’s Power Questions Guide, and the fastest and easiest way to start parenting better. Happy Parenting!
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