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My Child’s Identity and Mental Health by Nancy Kabiru & Sakina Kalyan

My Child’s Identity and Mental Health by Nancy Kabiru & Sakina Kalyan

I love the process of life as it allows development and interaction with our environment. A child born in an urban setting could grow up with pets.  As the child grows, they learn that they have the unique ability to communicate with others, while their pets do not.

They also become aware that they interact well with other children, be it in the family, the neighborhood, or at school. During this interaction, every child starts to take up a role that allows them to fit into their social group/s. At home, these roles are further put into practice where their parents either foster or discourage them.

The affirmation of a parent encourages a sense of self-belief that the child identifies with. You see the interaction at home as the child tries to navigate life and absorb knowledge to help them feel that they belong.  This affords them the ability to understand the origins of their family; the line of profession the family has adopted, and therefore what their aspirations could be.

As the child develops, identity starts to mean different things to different people. It might be about who you hang out with, what music you listen to, where you live or what ethnicity you are. Simply, your identity is ‘who you are’. Our identity usually begins forming during one’s childhood, which influences how the individual defines themself during adulthood.

The adolescent years are especially crucial to an individual because the identity development is then explored further and an almost definite unique identity is formed. At times, the identity goes hand in hand with the traditions of the family, and sometimes the functionality of the home the child grows up in can play a significant role.

Identity formation occurs in two stages:
  • Self-concept – This refers to the ability of an adolescent to have their own unique opinions and beliefs which are often expressed confidently and consistently. During this stage, cognitive advancements occur where the adolescent develops greater self-awareness of the world around them, by understanding the different opinions and thoughts of others they encounter. Thus, the adolescent experiences a shift in their understanding of their world from simpler and global self-descriptions, to describe themselves based on their values, thoughts, and opinions.
  • Self-esteem – This comprises an individual’s thoughts and feelings about their self-concept and identity.

Why is identity formation important for my teenager?

Identity formation during the adolescent stage is extremely vital. According to Erik Erikson – a reputable psychologist, if an adolescent does not understand their beliefs and values, they fall at risk of experiencing an identity crisis. He suggests that identity development is a key process for an adolescent to develop a stronger sense of self.

The development of one’s self-awareness through self-esteem and self-concept has a great influence on one’s mental health. A poor sense of self-concept often leads to various mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic incident often impacts the self-concept and self-esteem of an individual bringing about signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and other symptoms linked with various mental disorders such as poor sleep and appetite, anger, withdrawal from society and feelings of helplessness or worthlessness.

How to support your adolescent child during development

  • View your child as unique and accept them for who they are. During this stage, many adolescents often yearn for meaningful interactions with their parents. Thus, as parents, observe your child and foster communication with them which shows them that they are valued and loved.
  • Additionally, acknowledge your child’s opinions and avoid being dismissive and judgmental. This allows them to feel safe with you to express their thoughts about themselves.
  • Encourage your child to make choices and decisions. This recognizes that your child is able to make decisions.
  • While offering your guidance, allow your child to become independent and encourage them to be more self-reliant. This can be done by encouraging your child to solve the problems that they face during tough times. This also establishes a stronger sense of resilience within the child.
  • Challenge your child: This allows the adolescent to explore their strengths and weaknesses which in turn allows them to gain their areas of interest and values. Once you find where your child’s interests lie, give them the opportunity to learn more, exploring their favorite topics with different experiences.
  • Foster your time in their interests and give the adolescent the opportunity to practice these.
  • Establish the importance of assertiveness for your child: Allow your child to be different from others, and encourage them to own their individuality and uniqueness. For instance, many times adolescents are afraid to get to school only to be labeled as a “nerd”, but they need to learn from an early age that knowledge is power. It’s great to be different and to express ourselves through our interests. By teaching assertiveness, your child will learn to express themselves without worrying about how others perceive them.

Children learn from emulating their environment and thus a parent would also need to feel adequate as a role model for their child, nurturing them to embrace their strengths and relate with their formed version.

Identity as a whole should create a sense of safety in their strengths, belonging and trust. It helps one to expound their knowledge and keep the hunger for learning and excellence alive!

Written by

Nancy Kabiru

Founder and CEO, Hisia Psychology Consultants LTD

Sakina Kalyan

Therapist at Hisia Psychology Consultants LTD

0745 526 108.

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