Individuality and Sense of Self

Oct 06

My kids are 8 and 11 years old, so for the past several years the month of October has looked about the same for me. From October 1st until about the 20th, each of my girls spends 80% of her day thinking about what she might be for Halloween. At least twice a week, our dinner conversations revolve around what they want “to be” and how they might best costume themselves. Somewhere around the 20th I start to lose my mind, finally making them settle on one choice. The next ten days are about me figuring out how to construct an entire mermaid costume with hot glue, since I can’t sew a stitch.

For a while now, I’ve thought about how popular Halloween has become. Last year, the International Council of Shopping Centers estimated that the US spent $11.3 billion on the holiday, with each family spending upwards of $125. That’s a lot of glitter and hot glue!

Kids, adolescents – and let’s face it, adults – spend a lot of time and money this month to “be” something different, even just for a day.

But what if – in the midst of school lunches, test scores, and everything else – we took time in school to talk about this very important issue: the issue of who a kid is, and who he or she can become.

An article published on, an online magazine of current social issues, explains a 2008 study of attributes needed for success.

“Prominent developmental researchers Nancy G. Guerra and Catherine P. Bradshaw gathered a group of their colleagues to comb through the published research with the goal of reaching a consensus on a set of attributes that could be considered common to well-adjusted youth. The project, the results of which were published in 2008, was supported in part by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After extensive review, the researchers identified five “competencies” that emerged as core components of positive youth development: a positive sense of self, the ability to practice self-control, effective decision-making skills, a moral system of belief, and prosocial connectedness. Although Guerra and her colleagues acknowledged that additional attributes could potentially be included, the consistent message of existing research is that adolescents who demonstrate high levels of these five key assets are less likely to engage in risk behaviors and better able to become productive adults.”

Building skills involving decision-making and self-control come naturally in many classrooms. This month, consider making your students sense of self a priority. You can use the Halloween fever as a stepping stone for conversations about who kids are, and who they want to be. You can give them skills, like goal setting and planning, to help them look ahead. You can notice in them specific talents that they have, or better yet, competencies they have worked hard to achieve, and ask them how they might use that to make a difference with others.

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