Five Ways to Teach Children to Be Themselves
- Nathan Clarkson
- 2019 Aug 30
I was an out-of-the-box kid. I loved exploring, singing loudly, making jokes, and using my imagination to play pretend. But these wonderful parts of who I was could also make me feel different. They didn’t seem to fit into the mold the world wanted to squeeze me into. Often, I found myself with skinned knees, being told to quiet down, getting in trouble for not paying attention in class, and unable to focus on school and reading.
But I was blessed with a mother who recognized my differences not as something to be dealt with and gotten rid of, but to be loved, shaped, and supported. She believed this because she believed my Creator made me for a purpose (on purpose) and every one of my differences would be used for the story God had for me to tell.
It’s easy for others to see what makes me different. What is difficult, though, is when in addition to my large personality, many of those differences get identified under labels like “mental illness” or “learning disabilities.” But to me, it’s just who I am. And the truth is, every child is unique, not a cookie cutter creation. It’s the differences that make the difference. But in a world that pushes us into conformity it can be easy for kids to feel like who they are is too much, not enough, or just not right.
Maybe your child is loud and energetic like me, or maybe they’re quiet and thoughtful like my sister. Maybe they’re creative and passionate, or maybe they’re matter-of-fact and analytical. But whoever they are, God has made them with intention and purpose. Our Creator has specifically given them their personalities, interests, minds, and hearts on purpose and for a purpose.
So, in a world that pushes conventionality, I have thought of five ways we can encourage and help our kids to be themselves. To be fully the people God created them to be.
Revel in Their Uniqueness, Don’t Punish It
It can be tempting to react, change, and/or punish people who are different than us – especially if they are our children. But God has intentionally created such a beautiful and diverse world. That is something to celebrate when we see his creativity played out in our children’s personalities. I can’t tell you how meaningful it still is to me to have the life-giving words that I heard as a child from my parents still ring in my head and soul as an adult. When I expressed opinions and arguments at the dinner table, instead of shushing me for being too talkative they would say, “Nathan, you are so good at thinking and speaking your mind.” When I played drums so loudly it shook the house, instead of yelling at me for causing too much noise they would say, “You are so musical, I think you need a stage.”
When I would disappear inside my mind working on a creative project, instead of being frustrated that I wasn’t focusing enough on my math homework they would say, “You have such a gift for imagination.”
Each of your children are unique and a different creation by God, and this is something to be celebrated.
Be an Active Participant in Your Child’s Life and Passions
It’s all too easy, when faced with people’s differences, to just pull away or choose passive indifference rather than accepting and even affirming them. As I was discovering and living into the man I was created to become, one of the most valuable influences were my parents – not only accepting, but engaging with my passions and interests. When I showed interest in performing and stage illusion, my parents encouraged me, provided magic gear, took me to magic shows, got me stage lessons, and clapped at every trick my young hands fumbled through.
When my sister showed an interest in debate, they found her a group and an instructor, they bought her books, and showed up to all of her debate tournaments. When I, or any of my siblings, expressed a part of their unique personality in one way or another, they would help us during the discovery journey, and become who God designed us to be.
Train, Don’t Control
Growing up, there was a book I loved that my mom read to me many times. It was about a boy who befriends a wild horse, and through training and learning, he takes the reins and wins the big race. My mom always told me, “You are like that horse. You have so much potential, and strength, and passion. If you can learn to listen to God, hone your unique ability, and harness your drive, you will be able to win the race God has for you to run.”
It could have been a tempting, I’m sure, for my mother to squelch and control my personality. Instead she saw the unique ways God made me and decided to train me how to use them for good and become the best me I could be. She encouraged my energy, taught me the best places to use it, and when to exercise self-control. God has entrusted your children, with all their wonderful gifts, into your care, not to be ignored or unbridled, but to be honed, trained, and used in his time.
Let Them Be Bored
Children today are too often over-stimulated and under-nurtured. It’s so much easier to deal with a troublesome kid by turning on the TV or giving them an iPad. While this is a quick fix, it’s one that ultimately has consequences beyond simply bad habits. When children are bombarded by a constant stream of stimulating entertainment, their minds will begin to fill with the messages curated by a world that doesn’t know, love, or see your child. Instead of learning and discovering who they are, they will be told and shown who they are – leaving no room for creative self-discovery and adventure.
Yes, all children will at times be bored, but that is not a problem. That boredom should instead be viewed as space in their lives to explore, discover, and uncover who they are and what they love. When they don’t have entertainment handed to them, they can use their uniquely designed minds and hearts to discover ways to think, imagine, and create. Much to my childish chagrin, my parents limited my video games and TV time. But as I look back, those were the times I played outside, built forts with my hands, used my imagination to write my own stories, and cultivated skills for connecting with my family and friends face-to-face. Though boredom was hard for my energetic little mind, it was often the place where I discovered, explored, and learned to love who I was.
My three siblings and I are completely different. We have different personalities, interests, minds, passions, and abilities. Some were great at taking tests, I was not. Some of us were good at putting our thoughts into words and arguments, and others needed time to think before speaking. Some of us loved attention and performing, others needed space to be alone and inside their minds.
I was so blessed to grow up with parents who understood this. I was never asked to be more like my brother, and my sisters were never asked to be more like me. If I had been, I would’ve wrongly thought I was somehow wrong when all along God had created me different for a reason. There will always be a temptation to compare or try and force conformity. We can follow God’s example of loving and supporting the beautiful unique creations we all are, just the way we are.
Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge afish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Every child is a unique creation of God. In order for them to grow into the people God created them to be, your child should always know that who they are is good, because the God who made them is good. All of their differences, uniquenesses, and special attributes are God-given, on purpose and for a purpose.
Recently my mother and I wrote a children’s book called Only You Can Be You. It’s based on the concept we find in Scripture, that we are made in God’s image as a unique person. That truth has ushered me so wonderfully into the person I am today, the one God created me to be. We wrote the book to help parents teach their children to start loving who they are, the way they are, because this is how God views all of us. The more we understand and love with that truth in mind, the more it will guide us into the story he has for each of us to tell. And especially, that your children have to tell.
Nathan has appeared in national commercials, TV-shows, and major feature films. In addition Nathan has written and produced his own hit indie films Confessions of a Prodigal Son and The Unlikely Good Samaritan starring himself and A-list Hollywood actors, seen trending on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Photo Credit: Getty Images