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Being YOU: Helping your child discover their individuality

When my first child was born, I was eager to discover who she was. I delighted in her personality and the little quirks that made her — her. She was smart, very verbal, shy and a little bit sassy. Then, my son was born, and I discovered an entirely different person. He was clever, funny, tender and a little too much of a daredevil. With the births of each of my children, I learned that they were all different, all unique in — sometimes delightful sometimes not so much — ways.

Celebrate each child's individuality.

It is important to celebrate each child's individuality and to adapt your parenting styles accordingly. Time Magazine says that tailored parenting may be the key to a well-adjusted child. They suggest that flexibility in parenting may be even more important than consistency.

What makes you unique?

Your personality. Some children are easygoing. Others can be more demanding. Some are natural optimists while others see the practicalities in life. Help your child recognize the benefits of her particular personality; even those traits that may seem like flaws. Your son who is stubborn can grow up to be a tenacious adult. Your daughter with a temper will always live life passionately.

Your physical appearance. Too often, we focus on the flaws in our appearance. Our children are no different. It is important to reinforce the positive aspects of our kids' appearance without focusing too much on physical beauty. You can tell your daughter she has a beautiful smile, a strong healthy body or expressive eyes. Even something that may seem like a flaw can be used to boost your child's self-esteem.

My son was born with microtia and atresia, which means that the outer ear did not form properly. He is profoundly deaf in his right ear. His little ear could have made him feel different in a negative way. However, he has always compensated very well for his hearing loss, and he is a smart and confident boy. He is funny and kind and makes friends easily.

One day, we discussed how his little ear may be a blessing to him and others. I explained how some people may bully people with disabilities because they don't understand them. However, through his friendships, my son has shown people that he is just a normal kid in spite of his disability. I told him that I thought that would help them to better understand people with other, bigger disabilities. Our conversation helped him not only to accept his little ear but to be proud of it.

The way you dress can also express your uniqueness. When our children are young, we take care of their clothing needs. However, when they enter their teen years, you can help them develop their own personal style.

Your talents. Your child may not be the next Michael Jordan or Pele, but he does have talents unique to him. He might be a natural athlete, smart, have a great voice, be a ham, or simply have a tender heart. If he seems to be perfectly average, that's OK, too. You can help him follow his interests and develop his talents as he grows.

Your experiences. Each of us has unique life experiences. Many of these experiences are good; some are bad or even tragic. All of them mold us into a unique individual. We can teach our children to learn from them and use them to connect with and help others.

Your dreams. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? A dancer? A rock star? A professional football player? Back then, everything seemed possible. Discover what your child's dreams are, and then help her follow them. Emphasize the importance of education. Teach her how to set goals and work to achieve them.

Embrace your children's individuality. Each one has something different to give, something different to learn, something different to teach. That's what makes life – and parenting – such an adventure.



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