It’s no secret that we tend to view others through our own perspective and lens. It’s human nature. Sometimes we just can’t comprehend why someone would act the way they do—after all, we wouldn’t do it that way. That can easily turn into contempt. Other times we make assumptions that other people are just like us and are motivated and driven by the same things in the same way. That can turn into false assumptions and misunderstandings.
It’s dangerous, though, when we look at our kids only through our own narrow lens. Especially when it comes to their personality.
For kids to grow up to become mature and healthy, they have to undergo a fancy process called individuation, which means they need to figure themselves out compared to the people who raised them. It’s natural; every kid has to go through it. They need to find what makes them different and discover the qualities and assets they can bring to blaze their own trail in life.
Parents often search for ways in which their kids share personality traits with their children. “Oh, you’re just like your dad.” Or, “we’re so similar.” Sometimes that’s helpful, especially if it’s an endearing trait like humor or hard work. But too often, the comparisons that are pointed out are negative ones. Read again, “You’re just like your dad!” with an aggressive or disappointing tone.
One of the most significant gifts we can give to kids is to help them see how different they are from us. The more self-aware we are about ourselves, and the more curious we become about their uniqueness, the more likely we will see their distinct qualities. Acting like a mirror to reflect what we see, then, with a positive tone, can help kids accelerate their self-discovery and confidence.
Take a step back and think about their personality, starting with extraversion compared to introversion. Do they seem to be energized by being around lots of people? Are they deep thinkers, or do they seem to prefer to talk out their thoughts and ideas? Do they enjoy time alone?
And, how about you—what are you like?
If you can think of some specific examples of your kid’s uniqueness, look for a good moment to share what you notice about them. I doubt you’ll have a deeply touching moment with your kid, but continuous deposits over time where you share your observations and remind them how cool you think they are will help them develop an inner voice of affirmation as they grow up.
For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).