Some small children don’t care what anyone thinks about them.
If they want to sing at the top of their lungs, they sing at the top of their lungs. If they want to wear a silly hat, mix-matched socks or gloves on a hot day, they do it – with no regard for how others might judge their eccentricities.
Somewhere along the line, though, most children long to fit in and begin to worry that their differences make them stand out –– and not in a good way. So, they try to conform to what they perceive their peers or society expect from them.
“Unfortunately, in the process they begin to hide what makes them unique instead of embracing it,” said Jennifer Lynch, an educator, child advocate and author of the children’s book, “Livi and Grace.”
“They become embarrassed or sad about their differences, maybe feel that people think they are strange, and that other kids won’t like them or won’t play with them. And in truth, other children sometimes will bully a child who is seen as different.”
Lynch has served as an advocate for children in the court system, foster care and treatment facilities. In working with those children, many of whom are abused or neglected, she says, you often have to help them overcome their insecurities about their differences.
“It’s important for them and all children to believe in themselves,” she said. “They need to understand that different is okay. It’s our differences that make us special.”
This message is so universally important, Lynch says, that it became the theme of her children’s book, which is based on her daughters and their distinct personalities.
“My two girls are so unlike one another that it’s almost shocking,” she said. “It made me think back to the children I encounter in the court system who say they dislike or even hate themselves because they feel different from their peers or their siblings.”
Lynch says some of the ways parents or other adults can help children include:
Remind them that differences make people special. While it’s natural for children to long to fit in with their peers, Lynch says, it’s also important for them to understand that their individuality is what makes them unique. “Differences are interesting and life enriching,” she said. “Part of the message is that you should appreciate the diverse traits in everyone you know, and also appreciate what makes you special.”