You want to support your child’s self expression. You want your child to feel confident with themselves. To feel confident in who they are. You want your child to feel comfortable in their self expression. Self expression is the expression of one’s feelings, thoughts, or ideas, usually through fashion sense, art, music, dance or writing. Self expression allows for the individual’s personality and individual traits to shine through, constructing a unique and one-of-a-kind person. It makes us happy to do what we love without feeling judged. This helps us and grows our confidence when we are filling our time with what interests us.
When self-expression is downplayed, however, it can cause us to retract into a shell, like a hermit crab. Ultimately end up feeling gradually more insecure to show the world who we really are. Not only can we develop depression or anxiety from hiding our true personalities, but we will gradually feel less accepted and less like ourselves. This can lead to self image problems, insecurities, and not feeling good about ourselves.
Do you feel like you want to support your child’s self expression, yet simply don’t know how? Maybe you do not understand, yet want the best for them and want them to be happy? Maybe you don’t have the time or energy to engage fully, yet still want them to know you support them?
In child and family therapy in Simi Valley, Ca we value working with the whole family by introducing parenting tips and using creative ways to interact with your child.
Perhaps your scenario plays out like this:
It’s the first day of middle school for your daughter. She gets dressed for the day as usual with no concerns or complaints. You drop her off at school, as she goes to rush and meet her friends before the first bell rings. They are excited, yet nervous, as middle school tends to be a big transition point in their lives. Kids are introduced to new fashion senses, feelings of insecurity within themselves, and feel like they have to leave behind some of their interests to fit in with “the cool kids”.
After a long school day, you return to go and pick up the kiddos. Your daughter gets in the back seat, yet seems dismissive and anxious. She has her arms crossed, and she is staring out the window with an upset look on her face. Gently, you ask her how her first day of middle school was. She replies quickly, with a short, one answer word of “fine”. She continues to look away, watching the world pass by her dramatically.
Upon getting home, she finally cracks and decides to open up.
She expresses to you that she feels ugly compared to some other girls in her grade. She wants a new wardrobe immediately. Maybe she has suddenly outgrown her old wardrobe, and desperately wants to fit in with the crowd. There is communication about how she wants to get rid of her toys, games, and wants to try to be like those girls she saw at school today. She wants to change her whole style. She wants to act like she isn’t interested in the things she has been all her life.
Perhaps your son is interested in dancing, but does not want to get bullied for his passion. He refuses to dance for family members, and feels insecure about it. He enjoys watching dancing competitions and wants to take dancing lessons himself, yet doesn’t have the confidence to own the fact that he is – and will be – a talented dancer.
There is a sign up for dance club at school, but he doesn’t feel like he should do it because all of the “cool kids” are not investing their time into it. He feels like he needs to also act like he doesn’t care, thinks dancing is for girls, and will simply ignore that inner desire to express himself.
This can be stressful for parents as well, as they don’t want to see their child feeling like they can’t be who they want to be.
Although it is normal for preteens to eventually develop a new sense of style, it can be tricky if they are wanting to rebrand themselves and act like a whole new person. As preteens, they are always looking for new ways to impress each other and be the best they can be. Maybe your kid feels insecure about playing Nintendo, and worries that they’ll be looked down upon for their interests. To counter these feelings, preteens will attempt to adapt to a different sense of self, which may result in losing their individuality altogether.
Not only is self expression a crucial part of figuring out who you want to be, but it is a way to connect with others of similar interests. How can you, as a parent, help them realize that they can be whoever they want to be and do whatever they want to do?
Here are 5 helpful ways for you to connect with your child to help them not only express themselves, but love themselves in the process.
5 WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR CHILD’S SELF EXPRESSION: Involve Yourself
Ask your child what their passions are. Do they like art, music, dance, or sports? What makes them happy to think about? What do they want to try out? It is important to connect with your child to get ideas flowing on just what would help them express themselves. Consider sitting down with them and asking them a few questions to see if you’re better able to determine just exactly what they love.
Let’s say your son loves to be silly, flop his arms around, and generally move his body. He is always doing some kind of dance, and says that he feels good after he dances. Encourage ideas to them about what you can do with them in your spare time. Are there some kind of fun games or activities that involve dancing?
Passions are not always free or inexpensive, so if finding a dance studio for them to practice at isn’t an option, you can always involve yourself to dance with them. They will appreciate seeing you trying, even if you are a bad dancer, and feel more confident and comfortable in their abilities.
By paying attention to them and engaging in the activities, you are truly supporting your child and their passion. It is important that you also watch your tone when speaking to them. If you have a negative attitude towards them wanting to dance, they will feel discouraged, insecure, and bad about themselves. You can do some research yourself and realize that your child having different passions than you is OK, and that they are about to develop into their own individual, unique personality.
Do your own research by looking at basic and easy dances to teach yourself. What if your child has a growing passion for painting and art? You can research general information about art, such as the primary colors which are red, yellow, and blue. If they get excited to learn about new information, it would be a great bonding experience to teach them a new fun fact everyday. Maybe you can teach them the different types of mediums to use, or what color combinations make different colors. They will eventually gain the confidence from your involvement and use it to experiment on their own.
3 WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR CHILD’S SELF EXPRESSION: Understand What They’re Going through
We have all been there. In our awkward stage in middle school, feeling inadequate and like we need to adapt to the current style and fashion; feeling like we need to hide ourselves from who we really are. Reflect on how that experience was for you. Was it uncomfortable and scary?
It is a challenge to want to fit in, especially at a young age where you just want to impress your peers around you. Think about when you were a kid and you were starting to develop your sense of self. Did others influence you? Did your family support you or put you down? What made you interested back then, and were you encouraged to keep going? Regardless of your experience, you have the ability and power to make your child’s life a heck of a lot more enjoyable!
Some of us were not lucky enough to have a family who embraced us, loved us for who we were, and wanted us to succeed in whatever we wanted to.
It may have left them with resentment, even hatred for certain types of self expression. They may feel anger towards a son who has a feminine side, or a daughter who does not take on the traditional role of a girl, and rather wants to play a sport like football or rugby.
Be respectful of their passions and interests to help support your child’s self expression. If they want to be a singer or play an instrument, fill them up with the belief that they can do it. Even if they sound a bit scratchy or are not hitting the high notes, do not put them down or discourage them. Fully believe in them and their abilities. You are their role model, and they mirror what you do. If you are laughing because you are so surprised about their new interest or joking with your husband as your child is practicing something, then they may pick up on it. They will not only feel negatively about that something, but also about themselves.
Our Simi Valley therapists promote the self and encourage positive and healthy ways to self express. We understand the importance of finding yourself and your passions. This includes the importance of working with your child to find themselves and explore their passions as well!
We often refer to the separation from one’s true self as the perception self. This perception self is always thinking about how to please others rather than the self. It wants to adapt to what “they” (being other kids) think, and act as how “they” think I should act. This leads to straying away from the true self, true inner passions, and dropping it all to better fit in with a group – who we likely don’t know anything about. Kids are always trying to impress each other, whether it be with style, technology, dancing, or more.
Let’s talk about the son who wants to dance, for example. If, with the help of his parents, he’s able to feel more comfortable with his passion, secure in knowing he’s a good dancer, and that he just simply loves to do it, he will be fearless in expressing himself. If he is feeling confident about his abilities, he may be better able to handle the words of bullies.
He will likely want to find friends that understand his interests. You can help guide him in doing just that.
On the other hand, let’s bring back the example of the daughter who is feeling insecure. She is experiencing low self esteem and just wants to look like the other girls. If she lacks the support and self awareness that she is great just the way she is, she may fall into some bad habits. She may restrict her eating or develop an eating disorder to resemble other girls’ bodies. She may want to dress a different way with makeup, in an attempt to fit in as that look is what “everyone wants”.
You want to make them feel special, unique, and loved, but you don’t want to agree that they need to transform themselves to “fit in”. Sure, you can help them pick out a new outfit or instrument, but don’t give into their feeling of needing to change for others. Simply remind them that they’re great the way they are, but you can help them feel more comfortable in their own skin too.
3 WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR CHILD’S SELF EXPRESSION: Explore Ideas Together
Consider asking your child open ended questions to get the conversation going. Examples of open ended questions are “what do you want to be when you grow up?” or “what are somethings that excite you?”. This gives your child a chance to do a self evaluation on what they like and dislike.
Browsing YouTube for tutorials, informational videos, and how-to videos are a great way to collect more information. But, the exploration does not have to be entirely virtual.
Spend some time out in nature, maybe at a local park, beach, lake, or anything that requires you to go outdoors. See what interests them, whether it being animals, flowers, or nothing nature related at all. Finding an open, relaxing space away from home could inspire ideas to flow.
During these uncertain times, children may feel overly bored being in their room or house, so a change of scenery will definitely spark creativity.
Consider bringing along art supplies and ask them to draw themselves in the future. See if they draw themselves as a hip hop dancer, doctor, artist, or veterinarian. Art expression, whether it is in their interest or not, is a great way to find out what kids are thinking.
What if you did have the funds to take some classes and explore options, like a dance class? Or a painters class? That is also a great way to get your child involved in the community around them to meet other kids who have the same interests. This way, during these class sessions, they can self express together. Even in a school setting, kids can choose specifically who they want to spend their time with in hopes that it will strengthen their own skills.
You want your child to feel confident with themselves. To feel confident in who they are. You want your child to feel comfortable in their self expression. Sometimes, your child will need your guidance and encouragement in figuring out who they want to be. By involving yourself, understanding what they’re going through, and exploring ideas together, you can support them and grow closer together.
Please check out our other child and parenting blogs to help support your children: