Identity: Let what makes us not break us!

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“Who am I?”

Let’s take a while to answer this question to ourselves.

How do we identify ourselves?

Our answers can perhaps show us the filters through which we screen others.

I – Identity: Let what makes us not break us!

Post #9 of the series: Instilling Social Equality in Children

From our name to perhaps age, gender, appearance, educational qualification, occupation, hierarchy level at work, social status, abilities, family members, and the state, city/town/village, nation, language, religion, and caste we hail from, to our personal interests and life principles, there can be a number of tags we may like to put on us. Some could have clung to us even without we noticing it’s entry. Some maybe stronger ones, while others superficial. Some this and some that. In brief, we are a cluster of identities that we might not ourselves be able to dissect with precision.

Now if we have to trace from when and where we picked up each one of these, we would come to know what came through birth, which ones got added later, and how along our life paths we shed some and embraced something else. Yes, identities may keep changing, some might get lighter and invisible over time and some might get stronger year after year.

A little thought on these lines about ourselves can give us a hint about the identities that are a work in progress in our children right now.

What can be parents’ roles in shaping and dealing with children’s identities?

Identity plays a major role in a child’s development. Every child develops unique identities. I am a girl, I am tall, I am dark, I am a runner, I am weak in Maths – children keep forming such conceptions about themselves. It is a natural process and does not necessarily need adults’ intervention. However, sometimes, a little correction in how they perceive themselves when required is done, it can carry a great impact for betterment as they grow.

  • Spot the superior or inferior identities 

A group of children were playing in our porch when one child asked my boy why we don’t have a car. My boy replied that our car is parked somewhere else and we haven’t yet moved the car to our place. The other child’s next question was which car we owned. Based on the previous conversations of this group I could sense where this discussion was going. I asked the child why he wants to know that information. His quick reply was, “I want to know if I have a better car than yours.”

Such responses are clues of how children are framing comparative identities that are not healthy. I spoke to the child – asked him what purpose a vehicle served to a family, what would be the level of differences in comfort between two cars, how important would be the differences, and if who owned which car would really matter. Within a few minutes, the boy opened up that though they have a big car, his dad hardly takes the car out because his office is too far from home and they don’t go much out as a family in the car and added how his parents often argue about the car loan they had to pay. The child understands the reality but yet is tending to form a false pride in owning a big car. Unless a responsible intervention is done, matters like these between children will gradually build social inequalities.

Adults who closely follow children – it can be parents, grandparents, neighbours, teachers – will be able to identify if the child is developing an identity in comparison to others – I am darker than my friend, I am richer than my cousin, I am better at something than my classmates. While some comparisons can be healthy and might not necessarily mean wrong, some comparative identities can be false and unhealthy. If such ones can be spotted and worked upon – say talking to the child about it or opening up a conversation on the complexes with both parties – can bring down differences and foster equality.

  • Let family identities not become the family’s pride

In the early years, children are likely to pick up identities from home. ‘We are rich’, ‘we are Malayalis’, ‘we are vegetarians’, ‘We are Sharmas’ – as they hear statements like these, they tend to imbibe such identities and that is natural. Children may also unintendedly assume identities that were apparently not stated at home.

The boy once asked me, “Amma, which is world’s oldest language?”

I replied, “Must be Latin or Hebrew.”

He didn’t quite believe my words as always and quickly googled and found to his surprise that the language we speak at home was the answer to his question. Instantly, there came a sense of pride in him and he got excited that we belong to the oldest speaking language. I must admit that his pride infected me as well in an instant and that’s when the father intervened and gave his usual unbiased reasoning that Google’s answers need not be authentic and there can be several truths about historical facts. That leveled us down from our pride that had risen up an instant ago.

Long story short, let’s all strive to keep identities at home as humble as possible so that when our children step out to represent their identities, they will remain humble about what they think makes them.

  • Encourage children not to lose their originality for the sake of social validation

When people around make a comment about them – You are fat, You are beautiful, You are short, You cannot play basket ball – children may tend to believe and accept others’ opinions as their identities.

Yes, I think I look fat!

She thinks I am beautiful. I will need to impress her every time the same way!

I think he is right. I cannot be good at basket ball.

quote on originality and identity

The need for social validation from peer groups and extended families can sometimes make or break children’s identities and thus their self-worth. It is an unavoidable process in growing-up and in fact can continue even through adulthood. Encouraging children to preserve their originality against external influences as a part of family conversation can help to some extent. 

What can be added? Let us know!

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