Encouraging Your Child’s Sense of Self, Even When You Don’t Share The Same Beliefs

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This weekend, many passionate individuals marched in one of many Women’s Marches around the country. Their common values and beliefs brought them together to become one loud voice in support for woman around the world.

And one of those passionate individuals was a teenager who joined one of the marches in Southern California. If you know this young woman, you wouldn’t be shocked to find her marching in the sunny, 70 degree weather that is Southern California on a January day.

It makes perfect sense that, at 17 years of age, this young woman’s current identity includes labeling herself a feminist. She comes from a family who values independent thinking and respect for others. She attends a pretty liberal high school where teachers support democratic thinking. In addition, during her Junior year, she co-created a Feminist Club on her high school campus for students – both boys and girls – to learn about women’s history and support causes that align with feminism.

So co-leading the members of “Fem Club” (the simple and accurately descriptive name for her high school club) during this weekend’s Women’s March strongly aligned with this teenager’s passions, values, and beliefs.

And this beautiful, passionate, strong, and wonderful teenager that I’m writing about is, of course, my daughter, Belle.

Do Belle and I share the same passions, values, and beliefs? Well…yes and no.

Generally, we’re pretty similar with our core beliefs. For example, like I stated earlier, we both believe in women’s rights, being respectful to our fellow man, and independent thinking. But I do realize that Belle’s views are still developing, and they don’t always mirror mine.

Should I worry that I haven’t taught my daughter by the age of 17 to believe in everything that I do? Have I failed as a parent if I haven’t?

I believe that Modern Parenting is less about turning our kids into mirror images of ourselves, and more about encouraging them to be better people than us – which could mean that they see the world very differently from us. And this takes a hefty amount of trust – both in our parenting and in our child – that our kids are developing along a path that will make them better people.

I’ve written before that confident Modern Parents have a firm grasp of their own passions, values, and beliefs, and they use these beliefs as a guide in making all of their parenting decisions. Modern Parents who raise their kids with intention like this can trust that they’ve laid the right foundation for their child to explore their own identity (which includes their own passions, values, and beliefs).

So it’s par for the course that you’ll will experience a situation where you and your child share a different (or even directly opposite) set of views.

You might want to “lecture” your child until they agree with your views.

You might feel offended.

You might not want to talk about it, and ignore the whole situation.

But if your goal is to help your child progress down the path of developing a strong set of passions, values, and beliefs that will guide their future selves in a successful and positive way, then I’ve got some great advice for you (if you want your child to think exactly like you, then this is definitely NOT the article for you).

Understand That Your Child Is DEVELOPING

According to Dictionary.com, the definition of development is, “an event constituting a new stage in a changing situation.” Kids change. All the time. One day they love One Direction, and the next they think that Niall, Liam, Harry, Louis, and Zayn are for babies (I know – this happened with my daughter!).

It’s ok to let your child experiment with different ideas. Sometimes the only way for kids to fully understand a certain point of view is to let them try it out.

As a child psychologist, I’ve helped many parents tolerate their child experimenting with an unpopular (to the family at least) point of view (and in my experience, the more understanding a parent is with allowing the child to “try on” a point of view, the faster the child moves on to a more acceptable point of view).

If the point of view that your child wants to try out is safe and non-offensive, then allowing them to  progress with this line of thinking allows them to mature into a more fully-developed viewpoint.

Trust Yourself and Your Child

There’s nothing better to show that you have faith in your child than allowing them to discover what really matters to them in the safe environment of the family home. If you have a strong sense of your own passions, values, and beliefs, and have used these as a guide in making parenting decisions, then you’ve modeled to your child how important it is to intentionally put thought into a “life code.”

Good job Mom and Dad!

Now think back to how you developed your own passions, values, and beliefs. Do you remember having to learn some lessons the hard way? Do you see how you progressed from immature ideas regarding what made you passionate to your more solidified view now?

Know that your child is on a path to forming their sense of self, and if you want to influence their development, then be a guide that helps them progress. Don’t expect them to know everything about themselves at this point.

If you raised a good kid, then they’ll get it figured out. Trust your parenting, and trust that your child can figure this out on their own.

Don’t Take Things Personally

This is a hard one for me. It’s hard to resist the temptation to feel a little like my kids are rejecting me when they think differently than me.

I’ll think maybe I didn’t talk enough about the subject we don’t agree on, or that I didn’t say “just the right thing.”

It takes a lot to remind myself that both my son’s and my daughter’s ideas are their own. It’s not a rejection of me, but a reflection that I taught my kids to think for themselves. If I want them to be a better person than me, then some of that means that we’ll think differently at times. And that’s ok.

So be like me and fight that urge of rejection, and, instead, replace that feeling with the feeling of pride that our kids feel confident and comfortable enough to figure these tough life issues out for themselves – and that they’ll allow you to guide them from time to time.

Socratic Thinking

A couple days ago, I asked Belle how her latest Fem Club meeting went. She told me about a girl who regularly attends the meetings, but seems to attend only to point out opposing viewpoints (and usually does this in a confrontational way that disrupts the planned presentation).

During the past meeting when Belle was presenting, this girl caused a scene that was disruptive, and Belle was hurt by this. While Belle was discussing plans for the group to prepare posters for the upcoming women’s march, this girl stood up mid-presentation, and, without warning, loudly announced to the group that there was also a Right to Life March taking place as well. Belle was taken aback by this impromptu announcement, and answered the girl, “We can’t endorse that.”

That’s when I realized that Belle and I don’t share the same definition of feminism. To me, feminism means being free to live the life that you feel is best for you – even if that means supporting right to life, being a gay or lesbian – basically, anything that is not offensive or hurting other people.

So without pushing my views on Belle (but still wanting to push her idea of feminism), I asked her, “So you don’t think that someone can be a feminist AND believe in Right to Life?”.

Socratic questioning is obviously a tool that I use a lot as a child psychologist, but I’ve found that it is also a great tool to use with parenting. It leaves out judgement and challenges the child to develop their thinking further.

This method is a great tool to use when you feel your child’s thinking seems to need some more thought. This puts the onus of thinking further on the child, and further allows the parent to put trust in the child to continue growing and developing.


People Who Disagree Can Still Like Each Other

In Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s excellent book, The Coddling of The American Mind (see my review of this book here), they identify 3 mistakes that seem to contribute to our Modern Kids developing into young adults who are uncomfortable with different ideas. They further paint a picture that today’s young people are so uncomfortable with different ideas that they villainize anyone who does not agree with them.

The book provides supporting evidence of how our kids take it very personally if people don’t agree with them. This goes as far as to threaten their self esteem – and creates a generation of emotionally fragile people in the process.

If we want our kids to grow up into what the authors call “anti-fragile” young adults who are not afraid to conquer life’s challenges, then we need to teach our kids that they can tolerate people who do not agree with them.

In fact, entering into respectful debates with opposing points of view actually serves to help the child progress down their path of self-awareness. Two outcomes typically occur when a child is given the opportunity to speak their point of view: they’ll either believe more deeply in their views or they will identify the holes in their thinking and modify their point of view.

In that sense, respectful debate is a good thing.

But the important thing here is to teach your child that ideas (and the people that have them) are not scary or bad. Teach your child the skills necessary to debate others in a respectful way. Teach them where and when this is appropriate. And model this behavior yourself.


Take Home Message

Your child will not always agree with you – or, maybe it seems like they NEVER agree with you. Whatever the case may be with your child, giving your child the tools and the space necessary to develop a strong sense of self is necessary if you want them to mature into young adults who are confident and wise.

I know from raising my own two kids, that it’s easy to doubt yourself as a parent when your kids seem to adopt a different point of view from you, but by understanding that this is a natural process that everyone goes through helped to put me in the right mindset to guide my own kids through this time of their lives. 

Remember, the ultimate goal is to help your child to develop a strong set of passions, values, and beliefs that they will use to guide their decisions as adults.

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