A grandma playing veterinarian with her five-year-old grandson picked up a stuffed animal and asked the “vet,” “What should I do about my tail? It doesn’t curl anymore!”
Her grandson offered the “dog” a surprising answer: "That is your uniqueness, that is your special part. Humans and dogs all are different from each other. They are even different colors. This is your uniqueness, and no change is needed."
What a helpful lesson for us all. One of our tasks, like this pretend veterinarian, is to help children in our lives discover and embrace their own uniqueness.
I was reminded of that recently when a mom consulted with me about her child’s strong emotions. Over our conversation, she realized that her daughter is probably what scientists call a highly sensitive person. Being highly tuned to others is one aspect of her uniqueness, and though she might need some social-emotional tools right now, like learning to take and break and breathe in a difficult situation, the goal wouldn’t be to change her nature but to give her more resources.
There are many ways to explore children’s individuality, and they usually lead us toward more empathy and acceptance. We can learn whether a child is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, or an introvert or extrovert.
When developmental issues present themselves, there are many roads to providing support to a child, depending on their needs: speech therapy, occupational therapy, tutoring for reading or math, psychological counseling. Each of these avenues also helps us to learn about a child’s unique patterns of development and the miraculous plasticity of the human brain.
Learning about our child’s individuality can help us extend more understanding to others. Today we are learning more about the perspectives and the most helpful supports for those with diagnosed with conditions like autism, attention deficit, or Down syndrome leading us to a greater acceptance of neuro-diversity, all forms of human uniqueness.
As adults we always need to keep a growth mindset. We can’t confuse the discovery of uniqueness with labeling children and focusing on their limitations. We regard children every moment as evolving and growing and capable of transforming the world around them. Our Meher Schools community was founded on this principle forty-seven years ago: embracing each child’s individuality in a unified, loving whole.
Clinical research psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, developed the Highly Sensitive Child Test. Looking at these traits can be one helpful avenue for understanding a child’s temperament and response to sensory stimuli, but it isn’t meant to substitute for other developmental assessments and diagnostic tools.