When children act like their true selves, they experience increased happiness, improved self-esteem, and better relationships. Here’s how to teach authenticity during early childhood. 

By Nicole Harris
Updated April 10, 2020
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Happy Kids Running Towards School
Credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Living in a society driven by social media likes and cyber-friends, it’s become increasingly hard to raise confident children. And it’s even harder to raise authentic kids who act in accordance with their true nature and beliefs rather than being influenced to follow a crowd.

Why is authenticity important? For starters, various studies have linked authenticity with increased levels of happiness, personal growth, improved self-esteem, and better relationships. According to Kelly Oriard, a licensed family therapist and Co-CEO of Slumberkins, a children’s educational brand that promotes early learning, there are major benefits of instilling authenticity in kids in particular, and the best time to start teaching the concept is when they're young.

Here’s what parents need to know, including tips on how to encourage your children to act like their genuine selves. 

Traits of an Authentic Child

Here are just a few of the positive traits of authenticity in kids:

  • Forming relationships grounded in real connection
  • Standing up for yourself and others, even in the face of peer pressure
  • Taking advantage of your own talents and gifts
  • Acting with self-confidence, creativity, and self-expression

How to Teach Authenticity

Oriard says children have the largest social and emotional development before age 6, when they explore their feelings and learn how to express themselves. That’s why it's important to teach authenticity at an early age. Here are some tips for parents. 

Make children feel important. When your little one feels valued, he’ll be more confident in expressing his true self. Try giving him choices in everyday life—for example, ask if he prefers peas or carrots with dinner. You should also respect his opinions and feelings, even if you don’t agree with them. (“I understand you don’t want to go to school, but that’s what we need to do today.”) 

Value your child’s differences. Never make negative comments about your child’s differences, whether it’s his love of science or his shaggy brown hair. Oriard says to emphasize that differences make people special.

Encourage imagination and self-expression. Did your child walk downstairs with a mismatched outfit? Praise her funky fashion sense! Also compliment your kid’s imaginative games, artwork, and  made-up stories.

Live authentically yourself. Kids learn from their surroundings, so one of the best ways to encourage authenticity is modeling it yourself, says Oriard. Act according to your own desires and nature, whether it’s singing loudly in the shower or wearing sweatpants to dinner. Your child will absorb these actions and follow suit.  

Buy mindful products. Slumberkins promotes early emotional learning through research-based techniques. They offer board books focused on different social-emotional skills, such as conflict resolution, gratitude, mindfulness, and stress relief. Each story features a dedicated animal in its pages; the "Authenticity" book, for example, has a cheerful pink unicorn. 

Parents can purchase board books on the Slumberkins website for $10. They can also choose a $50 “bundle” with an affirmation card and a stuffed version of the featured animal. Find the Authenticity board book here, and find the Authenticity bundle with a stuffed animal unicorn here

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