Nurturing Your Child’s Individuality

By Stacey Meadows, LCSW-C

The great Spanish cellist Pablo Casals said, “The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him.”

One of the many blessings of parenthood is being witness to the beautiful transformation of our children as they grow.  From infancy on, we watch in awe as their individual personalities emerge.  As parents we often marvel at how different our children can be from one another.

While they might be reared in the similar ways, it is said that no two children grow up in the same home.  Family dynamics, composition, finances, and cultural trends change constantly, making each of our childhoods as unique as we are.  We know that genetics and experience intertwine to help form our individual temperaments, personalities and preferences.  As a result, siblings (even twins) are likely to have different needs and interests from one another, and from their parents!

What makes your child unique? 

The best way to appreciate the individuality of each child is simply to look and listen.  What are they curious about?   What attracts their attention?  What captures their interest? What do they tell you they like or dislike?  Are they outgoing or shy?  What are their natural inclinations and their particular strengths?  How are their interests and strengths different from or similar to your own, or those of their siblings?  Stay tuned in to their special qualities and evolving interests as they grow and develop.

What can we do, as parents, to support and nurture our children’s individuality? 

1)      Limit access to television, computer, and video games while children are young.  Create time and space for children to explore themselves and their world, engaging in inventive play and trying new activities.

2)      Allow space for mistakes and messes.  Encourage your children not just to do things that they’re good at, but what is enjoyable and fulfilling for them.

3)      Give children choices and opportunities to make decisions.  This promotes problem solving and confidence, and it creates a safe environment for them to try new things.

4)      Resist the urge to wish for mastery.  It is unlikely that our children will become famous concert pianists, renowned artists, or play for the NFL.  The value of music lessons, coloring pages, and sports is in the opportunity for children to learn, play, express themselves, be creative, stay healthy, and develop social skills.

5)      Expose your children to new activities and cultures.  Teach them to become comfortable with their own differences and strengths, and to appreciate those of others.

6)      Remember that young children absorb an incredible amount of new information daily.  Their interests may change rapidly with this exposure.  If your child loses interest or strongly resists an activity that you think is worthwhile, forcing him/her to continue can be counterproductive.  You might consider trying a similar activity that interests your child more.   For example, if she hates piano lessons but likes music, would she enjoy singing in the chorus or playing a different instrument?  You may also want to consider whether your child might be losing interest because he or she is not developmentally ready to take on this activity.

Children have a natural ability to learn and explore their world.  Don’t be afraid to encourage the unique interests and abilities of each child.  For children and adults alike, discovering and appreciating our uniqueness and understanding our strengths is paramount in developing self confidence and competence as an independent adult.

By Stacey Meadows, LCSW-C, Manager of Child Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD

Questions about parenting?  Send an email to parenttalk@jcsbaltimore.org.  For more information on parenting click here or call 410-466-9200.

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