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Shaping the sense of ‘self’

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Individuality is something which can be seen in people from the very start of their lives. There are several theories within the worlds of psychological, societal, and communicative studies which help explain this phenomenon and decipher how parents and guardians can better serve the needs of each child.

One of the strongest standing theories about child development lies with the theory of Influence, notably parental influence. A parent’s influence over her child’s life directly impacts that child’s existence and, as the child grows, it will determine how he communicates with his parents.

Influence can be positive or negative, thus it is crucial that parents create and maintain the best surroundings possible for their children to thrive in. Overwhelmingly, children who have a positive relationship with their parents are less likely to engage in risky or destructive behaviors. Notably, children from solid family foundations have a strong sense of morals. This results in good self-control and, subsequently, avoidance of dangerous situations.

So, what is the key to maintaining a good relationship with your children? The simple answer seems to be a strong, loving relationship.

Influence theory largely concerns impressions woven into a person slowly over an extended period of time. However, it can occasionally be actively observed — notably when children are young. If a mother allows her small child to pet a dog while explaining how nice dogs are, she is influencing that child to like animals. If a father sings to his child, he is influencing the child to recognize the tune.

Influence is very much like teaching, except without any kind of curriculum-based instruction. Rather, influence helps to shape a person’s personality that, in turn, leads to a mutual understanding and close bonds with those around them. In short, influence leads to closeness, which leads to good feelings and bonds, which leads to an increase in positive reinforcement, sense of stability, and happiness.

Although influence is important, it can only be truly applied if parents appreciate a child’s own personality. Thus, if a child shows a special interest in sports, parents can influence this behavior further by watching professional games with him, reading books about the subject, encouraging practice, etc. In today’s technological age, there are numerous ways to motivate and develop those interests to their full potential. As long as the child genuinely enjoys the hobby — and is not being pushed to like it — parental involvement can create a strong stock of memories and feelings of acceptance.

Although some hobbies are directly influenced by parents (such as exposure to sports), other activities may be more influenced by peers or society outside the home. For example, although a parent might not have experience with designing video games, she can certainly encourage a child interested in such a field to continue his pursuit. Sometimes, simply listening to a child’s interest — and reassuring him that it’s acceptable to create goals set around personal, not parental, preferences — influences that child to simply be himself. And that’s one of the most important messages that is too often ignored.

There are many pressures in today’s world — from rigorous test-obsessed school systems to harshly judging social media — that can stifle a young person’s quest for “self,” conflicting with the desire to be accepted. Without a strong sense of belonging somewhere (like a family unit), a youngster is more likely to miss the opportunity to expand his mind, find new interests, and ultimately reach his full potential. Such a sense of insecurity can have extremely adverse reactions on a child’s psyche. Disproportionate sense of identity (one’s “self”) can even cause bullying as an attempt to seek a sense of a role in society that is otherwise lacking.

Too often, basic communication issues pop up between parents and children while the children are still very young. Bonding and developing a sense of who they are versus what you, as a parent, want them to be, starts from the minute they are conceived. Mothers want their children to be healthy, so they treat their body right during pregnancy. Parents want their children to be polite, so they teach them to say “please” and “thank you.” Parents want their kids to be smart, so they help them learn basic reading and math skills before they officially start school. We know what society expects our children to be (i.e., smart, polite) but it is too easy to get caught up in systematically training them to retain information while overlooking the chance to expand their minds in a fun and interesting way.

Although we teach children how to function, we have a tendency to ignore basic developmental concepts such as compassion and individuality. This “gap” in information can leave children struggling to define their own feelings alongside those of others. In short, children sometimes have a lesser sense of compassion simply because they have not been taught crucial social graces as effectively as specialized mathematical lessons they will most likely never use.

By simply teaching children to recite information, we are not helping them to explore the world, or teaching them to question the things in their surroundings, which is the key to actually gaining knowledge. To really master something, we have to take an interest in it. The only way to know what we truly enjoy is to be exposed to numerous elements and be influenced to embrace our interests from an early age.

Examples of expansive learning resources that parents can utilize are books, television shows, and family-oriented events that focus on various topics. Libraries are packed with books for children about everything from fictional stories to arts-and-crafts instructions. Any parent who has ever sat down to watch an episode of “Sesame Street” will note how every episode focuses on various subjects. Websites and iPhone apps even include age-appropriate, multi-content, educational games which children enjoy.

We are fortunate to live in New York where there are literally hundreds of places to go and things to do. A look through local newspapers (or online sources, such as NYparenting.com) will supply ample leads to dance classes, music lessons, theater, and a myriad of other nearby attractions to influence a child’s natural curiosity (and bond with him at the same time). By exposing him to all the good things life has to offer, we help him see how big and diverse and wonderful the world is.

Updated 4:30 pm, July 9, 2018
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