My 4 year old son was so excited to go to preschool wearing his new sweatshirt. Little kids are amazing because they find such a profound amount of joy in the simple things of life like an article of clothing or small gesture. It’s something adults tend to take for granted.
We walked into the classroom and I watched as he ran over to friends, elated, showing them his new source of joy. But what I saw next simultaneously broke my heart, pissed me off, and scared the crap out of me. One of the boys looked at him and in a slow, seemingly intentional manner, proceeded to signal with a thumbs down gesture and told him multiple times that the sweatshirt was “not cool.” I watched as the joy drained from my son’s face. His body language completely changed, he removed the hood of his sweatshirt and walked away from the group.
This situation caught me completely off guard. After all – weren’t these only 4 year olds? When did “cool” become a thing? I was torn between reprimanding the “coolness judge” and comforting my son. I took a breath and walked over to my son. We had a good conversation and agreed that the only opinion that mattered was his. If he liked it – that’s what was important. Luckily, he was back to his joyful self shortly after that.
Some people may argue that this is just an example of “how kids act” or it’s just “kids being kids.” But before we throw a generalization at the situation let me ask you this –
How do we stand a chance in hell of maintaining our authentic selves when this type of behavior begins at such a young age?
I truly believe that this is learned behavior. Young children have the amazing ability to look past differences and except people as is. The level of unconditional acceptance and love that a child has is astonishing. The challenge arises when they’re exposed to the limiting beliefs and the opinions of others. A change begins when labels like bad, not cool, weird, ugly, different etc. are introduced into their vocabulary and thought process.
We as a society reward an individual’s ability to conform but denounce the very uniqueness that makes us human. Many people are threatened or scared by things they don’t understand. So they take that thing, place it in a box, and apply a label. Before you know it – the authentic self gets suppressed as you maneuver through the minefield of labels.
My responsibility as a mom is to help my son navigate that minefield. It’s my job to encourage acceptance regardless of how an individual is labeled by others. It’s also my job to provide him with the necessary tools to maintain a strong, authentic sense of self so he is able to combat any labels given to him along life’s journey.
As a society, I believe we need to celebrate the uniqueness of individuals instead of encouraging conformity. We need to remove the labels and relish in the joy of forging a path that is authentic. We need to maintain that sense of unconditional love and acceptance that was part of our childhood. Only then will we truly appreciate all this amazing world has to offer.
Today, I challenge you to break free of any old labels that might be holding you back and encourage others to do the same. What can you do to help your children or those around you celebrate the beautiful individuals in the world? How can you approach your fellow human with compassion, love and acceptance? Leave a comment with your thoughts!