Your Child's Identity
Identity is who you are, and who you are not. Healthy identity is another key part of your child's development. Identity is self-awareness and other-awareness; how much your child knows about her likes and dislikes, her beliefs about who she is and what she thinks her capabilities are. As your child's sense of self develops, so does her ability to blossom in school and in social relationships. Just as self-esteem is how she feels about herself, identity is how she thinks about herself. A child with a strong sense of identity might state, “I am a short person, I like pizza, and I am funny.”
Anxiety, because it is so overpowering, interferes with your child's ability to make that distinction, and to see herself clearly. Filled with a sense of “I can't …” or “I do not …” your child with anxiety cannot even begin to see her way clear to a strong sense of self. This lack of foundation will magnify negative self-statements and prevent her from developing into a competent and confident adult.
An important skill for your child to learn in order to develop a healthy identity and be less affected by stress and anxiety is to grow in autonomy. Autonomy is defined as self-awareness, a sense of identity, the ability to act independently, and the ability to exert control over the external environment. If you have ever heard a three-year-old say, “I can do it myself!” you have experienced a child experimenting with autonomy. Your child's sense of knowing he can make it on his own, and knowing what type of person he is and is not become building blocks for future success and happiness.
For children in a difficult environment, such as a family with alcoholism, overprotective parents, fighting, divorce, or mental illness, a strong identity means the ability to distance oneself from the family chaos and still see the future as positive. These children will be able to identify how to differentiate “what is about me,” from “what is about them,” and to make independent judgments about life events. This internal strength creates a buffer against stress by allowing a child not to internalize, or take on, others' problems. A strong identity, as you can see, is the key to combat stress and anxiety, and cope well through adversity.