At-Home Learning is an early childhood education resource (for ages 2-8) providing families, educators and community partners with at-home learning activities, guides, and expert advice.
When I was growing up, I didn’t come across any children’s books or media that showcased characters who looked like me addressing the insecurities I faced. I felt alone and can only imagine how kids today must feel with the constant messaging from social media, peers, television, etc. influencing their perceptions of beauty, success and career choices.
It’s important to help kids embrace their uniqueness at an early age. “Teaching kids self-love and embracing their uniqueness helps to foster a healthy personal identity and positive self-concept,” says psychotherapist Jenny Devenny, who is also a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). “Nurturing a child’s individual personal identity strengthens social, emotional and cognitive development and provides a strong foundation for success when they enter school and particularly in adolescence when comparisons are unavoidable.”
Here are some ways parents can help kids embrace their uniqueness.
Challenge Negative Thoughts and Language
Teach children how to challenge negative thoughts and language that undermines their belief in accomplishing a goal or mastering a certain task. When a negative, self-doubting comment is made, quickly tell them how to shift the language into a positive, truthful and more affirming statement.
Example 1: You are watching your child play volleyball with some kids from school.
Negative comment: “I’m not good at playing volleyball.”
Positive, truthful and affirming statement: “I do an amazing job serving the ball and also passing the ball to my teammates.”
Example 2: Two siblings are working on an arts and crafts project at home.
Negative comment: “I don’t like how mine came out. It doesn’t look as cool as his.”
Positive, truthful and affirming statement: “My brother and I show our creativity in different ways. It’s cool to see us work on the same project and come up with a new approach every time we work together.”
Example 3: Erin, the main character of the children’s book “I Am Unique!,” wants to try out for the leading role in her school’s play. When she shares her goal with her best friend Madison, Madison tells her she can’t try out for the role because princesses don’t have birthmarks.
Negative comment: “I can’t play the leading princess role because princesses don’t have birthmarks.”
Positive, truthful and affirming statement: “I can play any role I choose. I’m a great actress.”
Countering a negative thought or statement in a positive affirmation helps to reframe your child’s mindset, increasing their mental toughness. Having open and honest conversations while helping them to embrace their uniqueness encourages self-love.
Create a Self-Love Video with Friends and Family
Kids may be feeling a bit of angst due to their inability to see and hang out with their friends and family the way they would like. Why not create a way for everyone to see each other and embrace each other’s uniqueness at the same time? You can get a group of close friends (or family, or both — your choice), and have them record a short video of themselves sharing what makes them unique ... bonus points if they demonstrate their uniqueness on camera as well!
I compiled an audio version of this a few years ago, where I asked girls and women around the world to answer in a 60-second voice note the question, “What makes you unique?” Check out the recording here for some ideas.
Once everyone’s done recording, compile the clips into one video and coordinate a Zoom call for everyone to watch it together. Picture the delight in your child’s eyes as they share their uniqueness while witnessing others embrace theirs as well.
As the saying goes, “comparison is the thief of joy.” In Devenny’s experience, “any time a child is struggling to embrace their uniqueness, there is often a societal norm they are either comparing themselves to or are being compared to by others.”
Encourage your child to reflect on what they love about themselves and have them draw a picture of it — it could be something physical like the birthmark on their shoulder, or abstract like their ability to be resourceful in challenging situations. Here’s a free coloring and activity page that’ll help facilitate the conversation.
Consider inviting your child’s friends to participate as well. They could share their completed activity page on a scheduled video call.
As the parent, challenge yourself to be specific when giving praise. Instead of saying things like, “You did a great job,” or “You were amazing,” challenge yourself to name, as specifically as possible, what the child did that was great or amazing. For example, “You memorized your lines very well” or “You did a good job explaining what happened in the story.”
Help your child identify a strength or unique skill they have to help them problem solve. You can say, “You have a great ability to come up with creative ideas in the moment; how might that help you in this situation?”
It’s all about giving kids the tools to become their best selves, so that they are equipped to navigate the complexities of their adolescent years, adulthood and beyond. Which one of these tips are you excited to try first?
Jennifer Vassel is children’s book author, speaker and creative entrepreneur who writes about self-love and inspiring kids (and adults) to rise above their insecurities and share their unique gifts with the world. She sits on the board of STUK Designs, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides self-love and art programs for girls of color in underserved communities worldwide. You can connect with Jennifer on social at @JenniferDVassel and @IAmUniqueBook. Find more tips and resources for parents and educators on her website: www.iamuniquebrand.com.