Good Things Come in Weird Packages: Embracing Your “You”!
Some kids are wholly at home in their individuality, while some need a bit of support and scaffolding to embrace their fabulous selves. And sometimes parents, family members and peers can do with a bit of a nudge as well! In fact, I wrote a whole book about being comfortable in your own skin (even if that happens to be the duck-beaver-otter skin of a platypus)! More on that later, promise! In the meantime, here are my tips for fostering that sense of self in your little one, no matter how syncopated a beat they like to march to. Ready?
Grab that unicorn latte, don that fancy hat, and read on!
1. Let them take the lead!
Kids are naturally curious, inquisitive little people, and when they’re interested in something, they’ll let you know. My 3-and-a-half-year-old has already cycled through a flurry of interests and fascinations, and it’s a marvel to watch. He has a boundless imagination and is never short on questions or ideas (my parents tell me that this might be hereditary). Our goal is to expand his world, not shrink it down, so if there’s a way we can help him take a deeper dive into those interests, we do. Maybe it’s visiting a children’s museum, borrowing books around a particular topic, getting crafty or absolutely indulging that game of make believe – whatever works! I hope that by honouring and respecting his interests and curiosity he’ll feel free to keep exploring the things that inspire his free-spirited little self.
2. Be a cheerleader!
I’m not one to withhold praise. If my son is trying something new or is asking questions about a particular topic (yesterday it was about the difference between jelly and jellyfish…), I’m enthusiastic about it. Honestly, it’s not even something I have to work at, because his excitement and wonder is so contagious! My little guy is pretty strong-willed to begin with, but I think knowing that he has our support and attention in everything he does helps boost him up. Looking back on my own childhood, those supportive teachers or family members really made all the difference to my own assuredness and confidence in my own abilities and interests, so I think there’s something to it! (Shout-out to my year seven English teacher, Ms Brown!)
3. Expose them to books and art!
Books, art and other forms of creative media are an incredible way to build empathy and plant the seeds of possibility in a young mind. Books allow you to walk in the shoes of someone like you (or not like you!), safely work through new situations or scenarios and encounter (or take a deeper dive into) fascinating topics and ideas. I think with very young kids it’s important to let them approach books or art on their own terms, even if that means reading a book completely out of order, letting things devolve into a book-and-stuffed-toy improv session or accepting that paint apparently wants to be everywhere except on a canvas. What seems like shenanigans to us adults is actually those little minds figuring out how art works and why it’s so special.
4. Get involved!
Sharing in your kid’s interests can be heaps of fun and is a great way to show your kid that they’re valued and heard. Whether it’s looking for fossils in your backyard or taking dance or trampoline classes together, that act of joining in shows your kid you have their back. But caveat: make sure you’re not overstepping or turning the interest into a “you” thing. Shared interests are great, but having their own thing is part of growing into an independent, self-sufficient person. Listen to your kid if they ask you to take a step back – sometimes they want to be able to meet a challenge on their own terms (yes, even if it seems like they’re having a really bad time building that Lego castle).
5. Encourage communication!
Part of being a great advocate for your kiddo is making sure they’re comfortable talking with you. Maybe judgement or peer pressure is in the future. Or maybe that thing they were so passionate about is giving way to a new interest or focus. Priming them with healthy coping methods, a support network (including you!) and tools like books and role-play can help them stay true to who they are. At the same time, flexibility is a big thing. Perhaps your kiddo was a virtuoso on the piano, but now they’re a budding audio engineer. They’re growing and changing, and that’s totally normal. It’s a big world out there, with so much to try and do! That said, if there’s a massive sudden change in their interests, maybe dig deeper to see what’s going on – but always be a person they feel safe talking to.
The takeaway? Self-expression is a wonderful thing that helps us grow and become complex, fascinating humans, so take every opportunity to foster that natural inclination in your little one. (Even if that means stepping out of your own comfort zone a bit.) Because as platypus protagonist Petunia says in my and Maria Lebedeva’s book Quacks Like a Duck - now available on Make Momentos! - “sometimes good things come in weird packages.” Hooray for that!
About the Author
Stephanie Campisi is an Australian children’s book author currently based in Tennessee. Her books include Luis and Tabitha and Quacks Like a Duck (both available on the Make Momentos App!), and many more! When not writing books (or reading them), Stephanie spends her days chasing after her rambunctious toddler and even more rambunctious Jack Russell Terrier. You can find Stephanie at www.stephaniecampisi.com, and on Make Momentos!