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Independent Thinkers: How Children Find Their Identity by Challenging Our Authority

Parenthood is not only a journey of nurturing and guiding our children, preparing them for adult life but also a path on which our authority is tested and questioned. As parents we frequently assume the role of authority figures providing structure and guidance for our children. However, it is essential to recognize that children are not mere extensions of ourselves. They are independent thinkers exploring their identity by challenging our authority. In this month’s article I provide five ways to help parents understand and respond to the processes by which children challenge their authority. Remember that challenging parental authority allows children to develop their individuality, define as well as create their identity.

  1. Developing critical thinking skills. When children challenge our authority they begin to develop critical thinking skills. By questioning rules and seeking explanations they learn to analyze situations, consider different perspectives and evaluate the validity of rules, expectations and instructions. This process cultivates independent thinking and can help children form personal opinions, values and beliefs.

  2. Discovering personal values. Through the act of challenging our authority children explore their values and beliefs. As they question rules or expectations they begin to identify the ideas that resonate with them on a personal level. By engaging in discussion and debate with their parents children begin to understand and develop a moral compass and a sense of integrity.

  3. Asserting individuality. Challenging parental authority allows children to assert their individuality and develop a strong sense of self. As children voice their opinions and preferences they begin to understand that their thoughts and feelings matter. This empowerment helps them shape their identity and build self-confidence, enabling them to navigate the world with authenticity.

  4. Cultivating problem solving skills. When children challenge our authority they encounter obstacles and conflicts that require problem solving. They learn to negotiate, compromise and find solutions in alignment with their needs and values. This process fosters resilience, self-discipline, adaptability and the ability to think creatively when faced with problems and challenges.

  5. Building parent-child trust. Challenging parental authority can strengthen the bond between parents and children. When parents respond openness and respect to their child’s questioning an environment of trust and neutral respect is established. This trust encourages children to seek guidance from their parents when needed while maintaining their independence, ultimately creating a healthier parent child relationship.

We all joke about the "terrible two's." This early childhood period in actuality reflects children’s initial awareness that they are not automatons, that they do not have to do exactly what is asked or directed but that they can self-direct their behavior. This early emerging process sets a foundation by which children find their identity through challenging our authority. While it may be uncomfortable at times, it is essential for parents to embrace and encourage their children’s challenges to their authority. By doing so we allow them the freedom to develop critical thinking skills, discover personal values, assert their individuality, cultivate problem solving abilities and build a foundation of trust. Ultimately this journey of challenging first parental authority and in some cases authority outside of the home enables children to find their identity paving the way for them to become independent thinkers capable of contributing positively to society.

Parents and professionals, particularly in these difficult times, must support our children’s exploration and growth knowing that their journey of self-discovery is an essential part of their development and transition through childhood to a happy, functional adulthood. Challenging our parental authority is one process along this journey. Over the next two years, with my colleague Dr. Robert Brooks, we are going to further address this process in a new book.

Story Credited

By Dr. Sam Goldstein

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