“WHO DO YOUR THINK YOU ARE?” That’s a question that Caroline McHugh asks CEOs, politicians, ballet dancers, musicians, and countless others who attend her life-changing workshop, The Art of Being Yourself. People all over the world hire McHugh to help them become the best version of themselves.
She starts by asking attendees, “What were you like at the age of three or four, before you started comparing yourself to others?” “What did you love to do before you learned to be hesitant because you thought someone else could do something better than you?” Picture the brave little Ukrainian girl singing “Let It Go” in a bomb shelter.
Often we get developmental milestones wrong. The age a child learns to talk, walk, potty train, and even read will have little significance as they grow into adulthood, but the question of whether they develop a strong sense of self will greatly affect their lives. Young people who grow up worrying about what other people think of them are at risk for being easily influenced and, more importantly, never discovering their true passion, or what McHugh calls their “unique note.”
The first step in helping children construct a sturdy sense of self is avoiding using comparisons with others as a motivator or guide. (“Johnny is really a good soccer player because he practices.”) As adults our job is to reflect their interests. (“You love ice skating.”)
Children also develop a sense of who they are when we take time to validate their feelings (“You get frustrated your project is interrupted.”), help them notice their body sensations (“What’s your body telling you right now?”), and pay attention to their likes and dislikes (“You like to get out and run.”).
Perhaps most importantly, we aid children in their self-discovery journey by praising them for trying things even when they might not be immediately in the eyes of others – an approach to learning called the growth mindset, richly employed in our preschool and elementary programs.
At The Meher Schools, we cherish each child’s emerging sense of self, and one of the most delightful parts of our culminating graduation program has always been celebrating each graduate’s uniqueness, often through a poem written especially for them.
I am reminded of my granddaughter’s complaints that a boy in her class said he was the fastest runner. I said, “Maybe, you’re the fastest,” and she said, “No, he’s faster.” However, she loves to run, and I don’t want her to give up on taking joy in her speed because of comparison.