Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Identity and Conformity: A Great Book for 4-10 Year Olds

My nine-year-old daughter brought home A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon  from the school library. We read it with my youngest daughter, who then just had to share it with her first grade class. This book is a great way to introduce the concept of the danger of conformity to young children. The book starts,

“Camilla Cream loves lima beans. But she never eats them. All of her friends hated lima beans, and she wanted to fit in. Camilla was always worried about what other people thought of her.”

Camilla spends so much time thinking about what others will think about how she acts and looks, that she ends up physically conforming to anything another person says! They say stripes, stars, spots and so forth, and it appears on her body. Poor Camilla begins to be completely controlled by what other people say that she should look like. Sound familiar? This story makes me think of all of the research studies that I’ve read about how girls who look at magazines or watch TV shows depicting the Thin Ideal start feeling bad about how they look and going on diets, or how boys who are heavily into sports begin to buy into the Muscular Ideal.

Aren’t we all a bit like Camilla? If we’re not careful, we could get a bad case of stripes. What I love about this book is that it presents the idea that there is an authentic part of yourself that has clear likes and dislikes, and that when you try to conform to other people’s ideas of what you should be, you lose touch with who you really are.

I had a Facebook chat with my friend, Jade, about this topic not long ago. We both have three daughters, and want them to grow up to be strong, authentic women. Neither of us wants them to find their value in their physical appearance. And, we both love fashion. Does this sound contradictory? I don’t think so. The thing is, if you or your child enjoys wearing funky shoes or you’re strictly a tennis shoe person, that’s great. If you don’t think a thing about what you put on or you’re a budding fashion designer, either is okay. Whether you love sports or reading, math or mountain biking, that is what you should pursue. What matters is that you are being true to who you are, rather than trying so hard to make yourself fit into what other people think you should be.

This book gives you a great opening to talk with your children about how important it is to be true to themselves, rather than conforming to the expectations of others. This principle can be applied to how they dress, how they expect their body to look, what they like to do for fun, so many different areas. It provides a launching point for a discussion about what fitting in, and how that’s not always a good thing. Sometimes we have to stand out, if we want to be true to our authentic selves. What a great story! And to think, it all started with lima beans.

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2 comments on “Identity and Conformity: A Great Book for 4-10 Year Olds

  1. Ecesensei
    March 14, 2011

    Strong families mean so much to the development of an individual’s identity. My work with young children has shown me that there may be a bigger cultural componant involved as well as a relationship to language development. There are so many negative influences that can cause someone to lose there individual identity if it does not have the core principles solidly established.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      March 15, 2011

      I think family is key in establishing a strong, healthy identity. Of course, I work with children who don’t have stable families or, in some cases, any family at all. That’s why I think it’s so important for caring adults in a child’s life to get involved. Everyone from teachers to coaches to neighbors can have an impact. One of the most wonderful college men that I know was talking about this one day in a class and he said that while he grew up with no positive male role models in his family, the men from his church and community were able to provide that. He’s a great example of why it matters to be involved in the lives of children.

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