6 Ways to Nurture Your Child’s Authenticity
Fact-checked by Christina Sieren. Christina is a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice specializing in high-risk adolescents and families.
In a world riddled with judgment and a cultural landscape that generally favors achievement and materialism, the art of being your authentic self becomes shadowed by external pressures. This is especially true for children and teens once they reach an age where they are starting to ask themselves questions about who they are and what they stand for. Telling your child “be yourself,” simply isn’t enough, or even helpful. What does this phrase mean, exactly? If we struggle with hearing it as adults, how can we expect our children to engage with it?
According to Brian Goldman Ph.D., social psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychology at Clayton State University, “Authenticity is not something that you have, it’s something that you do.” Authenticity is an awareness; it’s a series of conscious decisions to experience your inner self and it welcomes the alignment between personal values and behaviors.
From this perspective, authenticity becomes an opportunity for the individual to co-create and collaborate with their environment. This ongoing exchange between internal and external stimulates curiosity to personally observe, establish, and re-define who one is and how one connects with others.
So, how do we creatively encourage the growth of this art form? Defining authenticity is one part, yet building the skill is another piece. This is the intersection between the abstract of what is and the concrete of how-to. Authenticity is about honoring who you are. It’s about removing a mask that doesn’t align, moving away from satisfying the expectations of others, and bravely grounding in the truth of who you are. Truth fuels self-awareness and self-confidence, guiding us to detach from what’s popular, embrace our voice, and trust in our capacity to problem-solve.
Whether you are raising tweens or teens, the following how-tos can be implemented with an appropriate developmental lens. Here are 6 dynamic ways to nurture your child’s authenticity.
1. Encourage Them to Focus Inward
Authenticity comes from within; it’s not about external validation. While gaining confidence from external validation is normal and healthy to a degree, looking to others for approval and acceptance, whether from our peers or family members, impacts our self-esteem. Elizabeth R Thornton, researcher and author, found that 55 percent of participants reported that their self-worth was often, more often, or always tied to what others think.
When children invite or consult others’ opinions, they abandon their internal resources. This recklessness allows others to determine their sense of self, and they unintentionally give up their power to choose to those outside of themselves. We live in a digital age where children rely heavily on social media to help them form their own opinions about themselves and the world around them, which is why focusing inward is especially important.
There’s a vulnerability that comes with turning inward; it requires young children to sit in their own emotions and discomfort. Normalize this reality for your child. Let them know that sitting on the edge of what’s right and rebelling against the norm are acts of self-acceptance that don’t bring immediate, dopamine-rich, feel-good feelings. Honoring this internal process is a long game that takes time and consistent practice.
2. Embrace Their Flaws
There may be parts of your child’s personality that you don’t necessarily love or want to actively nurture. Maybe they have an unforgiving stubbornness or become easily frustrated. Oftentimes, we make every attempt to quiet, fix, or hide these qualities, hoping that our efforts will re-direct others from knowing the true depths of who our child is.
These acts of self-preservation, however, yield us from embracing the opportunities hidden in their messiness. When we give ourselves permission to see the various shades of these characteristics, we allow our children to be exactly who they are. What’s more, we give life experience a chance to also guide our child.
The big five personality traits (conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, neuroticism, and extraversion), crystalize in children during their tween years. So remember that your child’s personality is still developing, and what you may perceive as flaws may simply be a small part of a large picture of their personal growth journey that will change as they continue developing.
Here’s a positive parenting tip to help you curiously observe your child:
- Take inventory, and list the traits that are difficult for you to embrace.
- Next, write how these traits have supported your child’s development or provided opportunities for learning.
- Ask yourself, how will this characteristic continue to serve them? What will this trait continue to teach them?
3. Allow Them to Make Mistakes
It’s time to self-reflect – how often do you give your child unsolicited advice?
No judgments if your answer is frequent; this is about redirecting your energy.
Sometimes our children will share what’s happening in their inner world or within their interpersonal relationships. They haven’t asked for advice, yet we take it upon ourselves to make recommendations. This is where they call us out for lecturing, firmly snap back with an “I know,” or with repeated offense, share with us less frequency.
Sometimes, when we share our opinion as a parent, we’re perceived as questioning our child’s judgment and lacking trust in their ability to problem-solve. If we continue this pattern with consistency, children can start to question themselves.
Trusting oneself is foundational to authenticity, so the next time you find yourself wanting to share, take a pause and ask your child questions, such as:
- What’s most important to you right now?
- How do you want to approach what’s happening?
- How can I best support you?
These simple questions can be empowering and encourage your child to take care of their own decisions and emotions in an authentic, positive way.
4. Discuss Real World Current Events
We each experience life differently. The experiences around us provide countless opportunities to grow, explore our beliefs and define our sense of belonging.
“Who am I?”
This question is at the core of authenticity and current events provide a backdrop for children to define who they are within a bigger context.
Whether the experience is within their immediate circle, the local community, happening nationally, or worldwide, children are impacted by various issues. They’re internalizing the information around them and have the chance to ask themselves,
- How does this impact me personally?
- What could this mean for me?
- Do I agree with what’s happening?
- How does this affect the people around me?
- Do I feel comfortable talking about this specific issue?
These questions support your children to think about what makes them who they are and lead them to question further parts of their identity, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc. As your children explore these bigger questions, take time to engage in the conversation with them.
5. Invite Silence
Take a moment to pause and listen to the stillness around you.
Maybe, all you hear is noise, while stillness sits in the background. Check in with yourself, what are your thoughts on silence? Are you someone that welcomes silence or does silence make your skin crawl?
Silence can bring forth many health benefits such as stimulating brain growth and creativity, improving mental health by calming the mind, and supporting mindfulness.
When we take time to pause and sit in silence, we give ourselves opportunities to shut out the noise, bringing us to the present moment. It is in this focused state that we connect with the core of our authenticity.
Slowing down and sitting in silence takes practice. Try introducing your child to mindful minutes throughout the day, where they take 60 seconds to sit quietly. After your minute is completed, share what you observed with one another. Mindful minutes can be taken outside, on a walk, or in the car.
6. Engage in New Activities Together for the First Time
This is all about creating raw feelings of joy.
It could be a contagious laugh or the silliest of grins; it’s indescribable, yet obvious to the outside observer. As a parent, you’ve observed these moments, it’s as if time stands still and nothing can shatter the positivity radiating from your child.
When children are in this raw feeling state, they’re living in the here and now, experiencing life in its purest form. These moments aren’t scripted – they’re entirely authentic.
So, how do we, as parents, support these moments?
Make time for creativity and play. Creativity and play support a child’s development, helping children to build emotional intelligence and improve social skills. This is where you get to ditch the routine, switch things up and focus on simply having fun. Just like you need a break sometimes, your child needs moments to rebel against the norm too.
Is there something new you both talked about wanting to try? Are there things from your own childhood that would be fun to share with your kid?
Or maybe it’s time to push planning to the side and see what adventure awaits you both.
With any parenting concept, it starts with you. Take time to explore your own authenticity, asking yourself, who am I? It is from this space of modeling that your tween or teen can learn how to engage their true nature and share their unique authenticity with the world.
Christina Trujillo Sieren, is an author, speaker, and mom of two. Christina is a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice specializing in high-risk adolescents and families. Her focus is on helping people choose their “edge” and embrace the unknown that lies ahead. She is the Founder and Lead Coach of Unapparent Parenting, INC., where she provides coaching to parents of teens. Christina supports parents to question mainstream parenting concepts and embrace the messiest of moments, daring parents to re-define their most authentic parenting blueprint from the inside out. Christina is the author of Parenting Teen Girls: A Positive Parenting Approach to Raising Health, Independent Daughters. For more information and to connect with Christina, visit www.christinasieren.com.