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Core Childhood Need: Self-Identity

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

As children grow and interact with the world around them, they begin to develop their identity. They determine their likes and dislikes, form their values, find ways they enjoy expressing themselves and identify what matters to them. Developing a core sense of identity is crucial for giving children an understanding of who they are and helping them navigate challenges throughout life.

Sometimes children may not be able to comfortably develop their self-identity. This can happen for example, when authority figures (e.g. parents, teachers) put highly restrictive limits in place with regard to what their children can explore. These limits are likely to be based on adult preferences rather than safety, age-appropriateness, or necessity.

Similarly, authority figures may emphasize only a specific aspect of a child’s identity, such as achievement, skills or appearance. Vice versa, children may also experience dismissal of some of their unique qualities as undesirable. In both cases, the child may try to form their identity around this to please adults and be rewarded with attention and praise. These issues are often linked to suppression of true desires and needs, and hinder the formation of a core identity.

So what can we do as adults to help to fulfil the need for identity in our children? Here are a few ideas:

· Encourage children to explore age-appropriate preferences, even if these do not align with our own

· Reassure our children that we value their unique qualities and personalities

· Permit our children to go through various “phases” in their exploration, even if this comes with hair styles, clothing, music or hobbies that we would not choose

· Ensure that our children feel comfortable to share different parts of their identity with us without being judged, teased, belittled or put down

· Seek conversation about the concept of identity

· Help our children to feel confident, loved, valued, and safe in their family as they develop their identities

Fulfilling our children’s need for identity will help them to develop a strong sense of self and what is important to them. This is associated with healthy self-confidence, independence, creativity and risk-taking.

The need for identity remains relevant for us as adults. In particular, as we grow in our careers and families, we sometimes risk losing our sense of core identity as various competing roles take over: being a spouse, parent, corporate person, entrepreneur, athlete, musician, activist, caretaker etc. It is particularly easy to lose our identity if we did not have the chance to develop it as a child.

However, regardless of our childhood, with the right tools, we are able to meet this need in adulthood without letting the past control us. The way we would treat children now, is the way we can also nurture our own inner child.

To find out more about how to help your children develop their identity or to successfully re-unite with your own need of identity, book a consultation with Dr. Terrighena on (852) 2521 4668 or

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