Three strategies to help our children cultivate a strong inner voice
Whether it is the powerful media pull of popular culture or the unrelenting influence of peers, the pressures on our children to conform are enormous. In an effort to belong and fit in, our little ones can bow to the pressure of these external cues – even when it doesn’t feel right.
The best response to these pressures to conform is to cultivate a strong inner voice in our children. Here are three strategies:
3One: Start Early. At about age four our kids are already starting to conform as a way to fit into a world that is becoming more social as they enter pre-school. The good news is that conscience is beginning to develop around the same time. In other words, they are starting to feel that “little tug” when they don’t tell the truth or do something wrong.
This is a great time to introduce them to their small voice (that little tug) that lives within. As parents this is also a great time to shift from telling and correcting (serving as their conscience) to building their capabilities to think things through on their own. In our family, we tried to promote the development of the inner voice by asking our kids: What does your small voice say you should do? Whether it was not wanting to share a prized toy or not wanting to go to a classmate’s birthday party, the idea was to get their little conscience involved in a proactive way.
Two: Keep the Dialogue Going. The reality is that peer pressures increase as our kids get older – especially during the tumultuous adolescent years. Cultivating a strong inner voice to counter these pressures represents an important direction in life that requires on-going development. Parents play a critical role in keeping the communication channels open and supported by a positive dialogue.
Consider the example of your 9-year old daughter who is being pressured by a friend to help her cheat on an exam. Your daughter confides in you but you over-react and call the parents of the other girl. Your daughter feels even worse by getting her friend into trouble. A better solution would have been to talk through options with your daughter that would allow her to exercise her inner voice (e.g., offering to help her friend study for the test but making it clear that she would not help her cheat).
We want our kids to see us as a safe harbor for discussion. One tactic is to share your own experiences. For example, you might reveal how you are learning to challenge your boss in positive ways – instead of conforming to his half-baked ideas.
Three: Build a Village. The simple truth is that we can’t do it alone. Start an on-going discussion with a group of like-minded parents. Make it a book club that focuses on positive parenting resources. Also, make sure your schools are involved – where the source of peer pressure is often most significant.
Teachers, administrators and counselors can play a vital role in not only addressing issues such as bullying – but spending time cultivating the inner voice. Whether it’s an inspiring speaker telling their own story or a respected teacher sharing strategies for saying “no” — our schools can create positive cultures that bring out the best in our kids.
The idea is to surround our kids with positive influences that shape and strengthen their inner voice while including them in a loving community emboldens them when the pressures to conform seem overwhelming!
Mike Morrison Ph.D.’s passion centers on developing leaders at all ages, from pre-schoolers to corporate CEO’s. In today’s world, we all need to lead in some way and Mike has helped illuminate that path through three books, his most recent being Small Voice Says.