It’s great to promote uniqueness, first kids need to feel acceptance. It’s important to help your child socialize so they can get the security from that.
One summer in college I studied abroad, and there was a girl on the trip with us named Ariel. Actually, come to find out, her name was something a bit more average . When she went away to college she decided to change her name to Ariel because her real name was plain. And because people told her she looked like Ariel from the Little Mermaid. And she did. Except even prettier.
Ariel was weird. She was very smart, very odd, and fascinating. But she was troubled. She would not spend any money – no money at all – on food. So she would only eat what was given to her, what she saved, or what she could find in trash cans. Oh, and what she could “barter” with delivery people. She was also a vegan. Unless eggs were on the continental breakfast, and then she’d save some in a napkin for later.
Her parents were both professors at a prestigious university and, Ariel told me, they refused to let her cut her hair until she was at least a teenager. Her hair went to her knees or below for most of her life. And she wasn’t allowed to cut it.
Ariel had big issues. And I’m going to tell you, so does every other child who is “weird” and doesn’t fit in. And do you know why? Because acceptance and belonging are basic human needs. If a person doesn’t find acceptance within their family and peers they will begin to exhibit symptoms of rejection. And there is a word and a phrase for people who exhibit symptoms of rejection.
The word is weird and the phrase is, “they’ve got issues.“
Because there’s a difference in someone who is unique yet fits in, and someone who doesn’t fit in then becomes bizarre for attention.
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“We are evolutionarily designed to be group mammals. Mammals need to fit in or they get ostracized and left for dead. Anyone who has been through junior high knows this is not just applicable to meerkats.” (source)
I’m not saying you need to encourage your children to be like the world. I’m saying it’s important our kids find others like them in their world. We should never try to make our kids be someone they’re not. Ever! We can, however, help show our kids how to find a place they naturally belong and thrive there.
It is from a place of belonging that someone can flourish as a unique individual.
1. Help them find and accept their group
You can’t change your children’s natural personality and temperaments. Maybe they are truly different than most other kids. And, honestly, that will be a good thing eventually. But even someone who is different and embraces that fact needs to belong somewhere. And not just at home. What happens at home determines how solid their foundation is upon which the rest of their life is built.
If they’re having trouble making friends at school, help the find a club, sport, activity or other group where they can meet like-minded kids. It’s okay if they don’t easily get along with others, but we shouldn’t leave them that way. We can help them with their social skills and let them seek out others with whom they naturally mesh.
2. Help them develop a positive self-image
Children need to hear they are loved and accepted for the way God made them. Musical, artistic, nerdy, brawny, etc. You brought them into your family and you love them. Help draw out your children’s positive attributes and qualities and call attention to them. Without giving empty compliments, praise your children for their good character and celebrate their successes.
The goal is not to make your child fit into a mold, but to help them be comfortable with who they already are. Those who are comfortable in their own skin find it a lot easier to make friends. You love your child, but you want others to love them too.
3. Make a change when necessary
We will all, at some point or other, experience rejection. As sure as we live and breathe. Some rejection here or there isn’t a death sentence, nor will it mean your child is a serial loner. But sometimes you must step in. I changed schools in 3rd grade to go where my mom taught. In the 5th grade everyone decided they weren’t going to be my friend anymore. I constantly asked the teacher if I could stay in from recess (since that was a torturous time) and she let me. That ended up making it worse because I was now the “teacher’s pet.”
By the end of the 5th grade things had leveled out, but I was so over those girls so my mother and I decided I’d go back to my old school for 6th grade with the friends I’d started Kindergarten with. I might have been a head taller than everyone, had glasses, braces, and bad skin, but there I had friends. Mom listened to me, let me cry about it, and ultimately made a physical change to our situation to help me “fit in.”
4. Make them feel accepted at home
I suppose I should have put this as #1 instead of 4. Your children must know they are accepted and loved by you. They must feel loved and accepted by you. And if that’s the case, more often than not, they’ll have a positive self-image. And kids who feel good about themselves don’t have to try to be different just to get noticed. Kids with positive self-images are comfortable with themselves and easy to like. Even if they are “weird” or “different.”
5. Help them accept others
I’ve often befriended people others thought were weird. My close friends were popular enough and I never worried about who I’d sit with at lunch or what I’d do on the weekends. From that place I was able to be friends with people that others wouldn’t. Why? Because I felt accepted for me and so was free to break out of the mold.
If you teach your children to be kind to those on the outskirts, and to make others feel welcome, they’ll never get lonely. There are always others who remain on the sidelines. Whether because they’re shy, they’ve been rejected one too many times, or it’s simply the luck of the draw. Teaching your children compassion and kindness will never go amiss.
Some situations in life call for a lot of prayer. In fact, in some situations, there’s nothing you can do but pray. Whether there’s bullying at school, rejection at church, or your child is a unique soul who genuinely struggles to make friends, you can always pray. If there is no other school, no other church, and your child is painfully shy, you can pray.
You can pray for healthy friends for your children. You can pray for wisdom on how to help your children cope with their situation. You can pray your child would feel acceptance and belonging even though they are clearly one in a million.
Help them be them
It’s not about having a “normal” kid.
What’s normal anyway? Some of the best people I know would be considered”weird.” The goal is not to encourage our kids to conform to some societal norm.
It’s to help our kids – our unique special kids – find a place they belong.