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Whether your kid is anxious about his emerging identity or not, though, you have a decent understanding of what makes your child so special. Unfortunately, your kid is unlikely to listen if you impart your insight through lecturing or pleading.
Parenting for your unique child
Thankfully, you actually can create an environment that encourages uniqueness and confidence during this crucial time in your preteen's development. How you do so depends on your personality, the personality of your kid and the closeness of your relationship.
Dr. Jane Greer, New York-based relationship expert and psychotherapist, suggests fostering your child's originality by supporting his or her interests in low-risk ways, like personal tastes and preferences. "Support self-expression by letting your child make choices about the foods he eats, the way he wears his hair or the clothes he picks out," she explained. Greer further suggested that parents should allow children to pursue their hobbies without judgment, and even have free reign over their room decor like posters, paint colors and furniture. All of these options allow kids to play with their uniqueness without any risks.
It's also a great idea to find a role model — in real life or the media — who shares your child's interests. This is particularly useful if your child is teased for his uniqueness, or if he questions his self-worth. "My son came home annoyed that kids at school were calling him a nerd," said mom Barbara Frazell, "so I gave him a list of famous nerds like Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Steve Jobs."
Words of caution
Remember, your role as a supportive parent isn't to control your child's interests and tastes. Whatever you do, don't devalue, ridicule or compare your child's interests to those of his peers in an effort to shape his uniqueness. "For example," said Dr. Greer, "don't say something like, 'Why do you have to play sports? Why can't you be in band like your brother?'" This type of communication may result in a desired behavior, but will leave your child feeling insecure and uncertain.
A little brevity never hurt, either. "I would always tell my girls that it would be weird if they didn't feel awkward," said mom Julie Davis. "After all, isn't that what middle school is all about?"