Earth is home to more than 7.7 billion humans, and your little one is different from every single one of them. In fact, there has never been another person throughout the entirety of human history that was or is exactly like your kid. And there never will be. That’s because everyone you know, including yourself, is an original—never before seen and never to be seen again. No matter how many physical or personality traits we may share with others, we are all perfectly unique.
That’s a good thing! Especially when we think and behave authentically.
To be authentic is to be true to oneself—to listen to the voice within. When we share our unique gifts, the whole world can benefit from what we have to offer. When we let our own light shine, we can attract meaningful friendships with people who appreciate us for who we are. Opening up to others brings us closer to people we care about—people who make us feel safe to play, create, and express ourselves in ways that make us feel good inside.
It’s easy to think about our authentic selves as a version of ourselves that we must grow into overtime. But learning how to recognize and trust your feelings, and to act in accordance with your values, is a process that begins in early childhood. As parents and caregivers, it’s our job to help the little ones in our lives nurture the relationships they have with their inner voices. Teaching kids to live authentically can be challenging in a world that often seems to encourage conformity, but there are plenty of ways we can inspire young ones to embrace their authentic selves.
Download this free resource guide for tips on how to encourage authenticity in young kids.
The Voice Within
Some call it intuition or their gut feeling, while others refer to it as a moral compass or inner guide. We might call it by different names, but we can all agree that letting your inner voice call the shots is a lot easier said than done. That’s because we are social creatures with an innate need for love and acceptance from the larger group. It’s normal for us to want to identify with others, and to pine for a sense of belonging among our peers. But sometimes this leads us to behave in ways that do not align with who we truly are.
People often worry that if they let their own light shine, they will not be accepted by others. They fear that others will not understand them because they have a life experience and perspective that is different from their own. Showing our true selves to others is scary, but it is also an act of bravery. So just imagine how complicated this all must be for the young children in our lives, who are getting acquainted with their own thoughts, feelings, and preferences while also taking in and learning from the world around them.
It’s no surprise that children with strong models of authenticity in their lives are more likely to inhabit their own authentic identities.
The Value of Authenticity
When we embrace what makes us different from others, something magical happens. We become confident and expressive. We channel our special brand of creativity and advocate for ourselves. Perhaps most importantly, we develop meaningful relationships with other authentic people—those who honor their true selves and act in alignment with their values and beliefs.
On the flip side, hiding ourselves puts us at greater risk of giving in to peer pressure—of not standing up for ourselves or others when something isn’t right. Inauthenticity stifles creativity and self-expression, and decreases our self-confidence. When we do not honor our authentic selves, we hide our special talents from the world and engage in relationships that are based on fitting in rather than genuine connection.
Raising authentic children is an exercise in celebrating and encouraging originality. Remind the little ones in your life that they always have people who love them for who they are, no matter what. If they feel like they are lacking friends with whom they can truly be themselves, assure them there are so many people out there who will love them just the way they are. That there are more than 7.7 billion people in this world is a testament to how many people are just waiting for your little one’s unique gifts to light up their lives.
Encouraging Authenticity in Young Kids
Authenticity starts in the earliest moments of life, as we begin to explore our feelings and learn how to express ourselves. We can support young children’s authenticity by giving them space to play, explore, imagine, and express.
Give choices: “Do you want the green block or the red block?” Here are some ideas with examples of how to support your little one’s authenticity:
- Respect Opinions: “We still need to take a bath, but I hear that you really want to keep playing.”
- Reflect Feelings: “It looks like you are feeling really excited about that!”
- Model Connection: “Even when I’m frustrated, I still love you.”
- Value Acceptance: “In our family, we love each other just the way we are”
- Appreciate Differences: “Everyone is different, and that’s what makes us special.”
- Encourage Imagination: “I love this amazing world you’ve invented here!”
- Allow self-expression: “I see you got yourself dressed today and chose to wear one blue sock and one pink sock. How creative!”
Of course, one of the best ways to encourage authenticity is to model it! Being authentic means different things for everyone. If you are not sure what feels authentic for you, try practicing mindfulness to notice how you feel, and then do something that feels right to you. Does it feel good to sing out loud to your favorite song in the car? Wear comfy clothes to the grocery store? To share a less-than-perfect parenting moment with a trusted friend? Think about what areas of your life in which you could practice authenticity. How could being authentic bring more joy and connection into your life?
The children in your life—sponges that they are—will sense this honesty and strive for the same.
Additional Resources for Authenticity
- I Am Enough. Written by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A Bobo.
- From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea. Written By Kai Cheng Thom, and illustrated by Wait-Yant Li and Kai Yun Ching.
- The Wonderful Things You Will Be. Written and illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin.
- I am Perfectly Designed. Written by Karamo Brown and Jason “Rachel” Brown, and illustrated by Anoosha Syed.
- Not Quite Narwhal. Written and illustrated by Jessie Sima.
- It Gets Better Project. Videos about LGBTQ issues, for older kids.