Now before all you Bible thumpin’ folks attack me from the stand that God created us all differently and for a divine purpose, well yes, I agree. But I do not agree that us parents need to remind our children just how special, different, and unique they are all the time– and this is why:
1) Kids already know they are different. Perhaps not right away, but around three or four years old children develop a sense of identity separate from their peers. At this time they usually start school and begin to acknowledge differences in appearance (like skin color/disabilities), differences in skills (academics/athletics), and differences in gender. They don’t need one more reason to separate themselves from others, as they have plenty of reasons handed out simply by being a HUMAN. Instead, kids need help navigating these honest (and often obvious) differences, and perhaps more importantly- reminders of why and how we are more alike than different (feelings, needs, etc).
2) Confidence is not found in compliments. Building our child up through positive reinforcements and encouraging words is necessary, but the true basis of confidence in “who I am as a person” is a seed of safety and an understanding of core values that grow and sprout over time; not found in fleeting compliments that reinforce “performance” (ex. if I do this, I will get noticed/approved/accepted). Good grades and athletic achievements are lovely and all, but definitely not everything in life. I don’t know about you- but I am more concerned about my kid becoming a jerk than her getting an A+ in school. So let’s consider instead how your child treats other teammates? If they are eager to help another student study? What about recalling the last time they looked up from a device to acknowledge a server in a restaurant?
3) We should teach kids how to speak up, not stand OUT. Our culture is infested with a social media, over night reality star, ‘one-liner-and-I-am-famous’ phenomena. Girls are being pressured to wear less for more “likes,” and boys are coached into believing that showing emotions is weak. The world of technology lures us to believe we are connected, but in fact is distancing us from others, dimming our empathetic responses and weakening our kid’s “gut feeling” radar. Google trends also report an increase in the last decade of economic search words over the former emotion-derived words. This stat left me concerned, and hopefully you too! As Marianne Williamson emphasizes, “we must make the radical shift towards humanitarian ordering and stop apologizing for making love the bottom line.” Yes; performance, earnings, winning and being financially secure or getting ahead is important- but ask yourself, at what cost?
4) Their success as an adult depends on it. I believe leaders are not born, leaders are cultivated. This cultivation does not happen over night, and certainly does not stem from the notion that “I am unique.” Exactly the opposite in fact. Leading traits are extracted from our kids through learning to pass the ball in a soccer match rather than scoring every time, completing a task alongside a friend instead of competing with them, and us parents assisting our children on how to model and instill empathetic responses. Some of the top leaders in business (and otherwise) know who they are serving and why, stay in tune with the changing needs of their employees and aren’t afraid to get in the ditches alongside their team.
5) Sooner or later, the world will knock them down. It is our job to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child. Our kids need to know that the world can be cruel and unfair, and understand that they won’t always win, won’t always stand out, and won’t always be the best. While their talents and gifts may take them places in life, more times than not, they will have to learn that life is built upon resilience, grit and how to bounce back after defeat. We must help them understand and believe that who they are isn’t defined on the merits of being special or unique, but rather in the quiet moments when no one is applauding.
6) True happiness stems from humility. I once read that “humility is not thinking you are less than, it’s simply thinking of yourself LESS. Of course I want my children to do well in school, and to accomplish goals and succeed in whatever they are called to do. But at the end of the day happiness is not found in solo accolades, but rather is deeply rooted in an innate desire all humans have to help others grow, win or achieve. It is why studies report the “happiest people” are not those who are the most popular, most financially successful, or even the most beautiful. It is those who serve and observe the fruits of their labor flourish in the lives of others.