Conforming and "Fitting In" Not the Best Thing for Kids

Now here's a perspective I can get with. Author Robin Fisher Roffer (her book is called The Fearless Fish Out of Water) is on to something hugely important. While many of us are driving ourselves nuts trying to "make" our kids fit in, Roffer says that we are the ones who are misguided, not our "different" kids. In other words, conforming is not the way to go. 

According to her, "The benefits of being a bold individual just keep on unfolding as your kids reach adulthood—especially these days. We are living in an era that celebrates uniqueness—not for its own sake but for the tangible benefits it yields throughout life."


How true?! For me, it's wonderful relief to be reminded of this virtue. My 5-year-old son--the only black boy in the class, the one with dreadlocks, the youngest kid in class, and probably the most sensitive too--has had a rough way to go in kindergarten. There have been times that I just want to go up to the school and tell those kids, "Don't you know how special he is? You're lucky he wants to be your friend!" Of course, screaming at a bunch of 6-year-olds would make me the wack job, so I don't. But still, the isolation I suspect my son sometimes experiences stings. This is my reminder that even if he does face a few bumps in the road, learning to be himself will pay off in the long run.

I want to share with you some major lessons from this Roffer woman (I like her!). Here's what she calls, "The Art of Parenting Non-Conforming Kids: Six Ways to Teach your Kids to Live Fearless, Authentic, Wildly Successful Lives."

  • Be a truly fearless leader. One of the most effective ways of teaching our kids is to lead by example. Our children look up to us and mimic the behaviors they see in their parents each day. If they see a person who is comfortable in her own skin, who dares to go against the flow, and most importantly, who is happy, they will learn to do the same for themselves. If this doesn't describe you, well, it's time to take a look in the mirror.
  • Help your kids to fit in the right way. It's only natural for kids (of any age) to want to be like their peers—and that's okay. Roffer suggests that the compromise to this scenario is to encourage your kids to associate with kids who are more like them. That way, they can feel accepted and part of a group while being themselves. Encourage your kids to join clubs or local groups that cater to their personalities and interests.
  • Foster and encourage your child's unique gifts. Nobody knows your child as well as you do, which puts you in the perfect position to identify those qualities that will make him stand out from the crowd and pave the way to a successful future. Take a cue from Tiger Woods' father. When he noticed that his child was a budding golf prodigy, he saw the opportunity and ignored the odds stacked against a young, bi-racial golfer in a sport dominated by older white men. We all know how his story ended.
  • Teach him to use his differences to make a difference. Kids who learn to give back at an early age are that much more likely to do so well into their adult lives. Getting involved is a great life lesson, and a great way for you to spend time together as a family. Let your child pick a cause that he cares about, and then help him to use his differences to make a difference in the lives of others.

  • Let her change her mind. Nobody wants to raise a quitter, and sometimes that can mean we force our kids to stick with activities and hobbies that may not be right for who they are growing up to be. If Sally LOVED horseback riding last month, but this week she will absolutely die if she doesn't get to join the local 4-H, it can be enough to make your head spin, and your wallet shrink. While it's not okay to let kids have free reign over your schedule (or your budget!), it's important to pay attention to their changing interests and to encourage them to pursue different things until they find what suits them.

  • Know when to let go. It's inevitable: You can't protect your kids from everything, and sooner or later (and it's probably sooner!) they are going to be faced with a challenge that will rock their world. Maybe a bully at school has made Susie her new target, or Timmy didn't make the basketball team and all his friends did. For kids, upsets like these are devastating. But they are also perfect opportunities for them to learn how to overcome obstacles by practicing the ABCs for fish out of water—action, belief, and courage.

Do you wish your child fit in more? What do you think about the advice encoraging kids not to conform?

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