5 Ways to Instill a Strong Sense of Identity in Our Kids

If you and your family are on social media, as most of us are, you probably notice all the different voices dictating how someone should act or think or speak. For our kids, this can be an overwhelming plethora of choices as to how they can be accepted, or seen as cool, or just someone that other people “like” or listen to.

For example, in our case, Joy is the one who loves to cook and plan for our household. Whenever she’s away, my action plan for our meals would be to eat out or order food! But do you know that cooking is not a natural gifting, but rather a skill that can be learned and developed? We will talk about it a bit more in the tips below. 

Each child has his or her own God-given talents and gifts. We like calling our unique identity as our Lifeprint. We encourage you to pay attention to how these play out, and verbally and regularly appreciate them. 
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5 Ways to Give Our Kids a Strong Sense of Identity

In this post, we hope to share some of our best practices in helping our kids develop a strong sense of identity.

1. No comparison allowed!

One of the most important advice we want to give parents is: never compare your kids. Don’t compare them with their siblings, cousins, classmates, peers, or even you and your spouse.

I was the only child for many years before my younger brother came along, so my parents always compared me with my cousins—except that I happened to be the “smarter” one. So the pressure was always on my cousins to perform better, just because Daniel could do this or that. While that habit didn’t affect my own self-esteem, it did have some unwanted effect on my cousins’ relationship with me!

Needless to say, comparison is a no-win situation. Each person is different and develops at his or her own pace, so it’s useless—and possibly even psychologically damaging—to pressure a child to perform like a sibling did at the same age.

2. Appreciate your kids’ unique strengths: their Lifeprint

Along the lines of not comparing our kids, instead, we should have our eyes open to their individual strengths. Each child has his or her own God-given talents and gifts. We like calling our unique identity as our Lifeprint. We encourage you to pay attention to how these play out, and verbally and regularly appreciate them.

For example, our daughter Megan is the one among our children who has always been concerned about the environment, reacting when she sees a piece of trash on our walks on the beach. We saw this strength play out when she signed up for the Science Club for her CCA (co-curricular activity) in school.

Another example is a recent conversation I had with our oldest, Titus. I remember that even from a young age, he always enjoyed writing stories, or acting in plays. It just occurred to me to ask him if he ever dreamt of becoming a screenwriter. He told me yes, it had also crossed his mind. We don’t know if it will ever translate to anything, but the key is that he felt seen and understood because I was able to pick up on that interest and strength that he had.

3. Differentiate between identity and capability.

Once you get to know your kids, you can tell whether something is within their talent zone or not. If it’s not, you can help them build the ability by letting him learn, giving him lessons, etc. And then, when he knows how to do something and doesn’t do it, is it a behavior problem? Possibly. But it doesn’t change who he is.

For example, when our kids don’t score well in school, we might still get upset, but instead of focusing on their grades, we would tell them, “You are more than this. It’s not so much that you’re underperforming compared to your peers; Mummy and I know what you can do, who you are.”

If the particular child is a B student, we don’t expect him or her to get an A; but when that child gets a D, that’s when we say, you are not living up to who you are.

4. Correct areas of behaviour, not identity.

When we are disciplining our kids, it’s vital to distinguish between the behaviour and the person. (We talk a bit about this as well in terms of managing conflict with our spouse, in this post.)

For example, if the child mismanaged money, we call out the poor behaviour, “You didn’t handle the money well,” and we don’t label him, “You’re just always a careless spender, you can’t ever be trusted with money!” Can you see the difference in the action and in the identity of the person?

5. Treasure your children for who they are.

As parents, it’s easy to be tempted to treat our children according to their behaviour: the child that gets all A’s gets more ice cream treats, or gifts, or words of affirmation from mum and dad. It’s critical that we don’t let the way we express love to our kids be swayed by their performance. We love and treasure them for who they are, not for what they do.

Establishing Confidence in Identity in Our Kids

Helping our kids gain a healthy sense of identity doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it requires an intentional day-in day-out effort on our part as parents. But rest assured that the energy you spend in doing this will be worth it, as someday, you will see your kids standing strong as self-confident adults who know who they are in the midst of all the pressures around them—and who can make a positive impact in their world.

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