Being true to our authentic self
Ep. 44 – Vera, Age 8: Change self to make friends?
Think About It Questions
- Think about yourself two or three years ago. How have you changed? How have you stayed the same?
- Have you ever been in a situation where you thought you had to hide your real self from other kids? What made you think you had to do that? How did the other kids react? How did you feel while doing it or after doing it?
- Describe some times when you’ve done something that wasn’t exactly what you wanted because you cared about a friend. How did your friend respond? How did you feel while doing it or after doing it?
- Dr. Friendtastic says friendship is about knowing and caring for each other. What do you think that means in terms of what you should do or not do to build a close friendship with another kid? Why do we need both ingredients, knowing and caring, for friendship?
Welcome! I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic. I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.
Let’s listen to today’s question:
My name is Vera, and I'm 8 years old. My question is: Do we have to change ourselves to make friends?
Hi, Vera, what a wonderful question! My favorite questions in life (not just on this podcast) are ones that look simple at first glance, but when you start to think about them, you realize they raise even more questions!
Your question–do we need to change ourselves to make friends?–brings up a whole bunch of questions, including: What are we talking about when we say “self”? What do you mean by “change”? And, what does it mean to “make friends”? Let’s think about all of these questions!
“Self” means our sense of who we are, but the idea of “self” is actually pretty complicated. It includes our thoughts, feelings, experiences, and actions–all the things that make you uniquely you. You may have noticed that you act differently around grown-ups than you do around other kids, and when you’re with people you know well versus strangers, and when you’re on a playground versus in a movie theater. So, you act differently depending on who you’re with and the situation you’re in. Does that mean you’re being fake? Of course not! These are all aspects of who you are, kind of like different facets of a sparkly gemstone!
Our self can also change over time. Think about what you were like two or three years ago. Some things about you might be the same, but I bet a lot has changed because you’ve had more experiences and become more mature. In some sense, our self is always changing because we’re always learning.
There’s another aspect of self that’s very important called authenticity. Authentic means real or true. Some parts of ourselves feel like surface details. We can easily change things like our hairstyle or our favorite ice cream flavor. But other parts of ourselves feel deeper because they’re more central to our sense of who we are or want to be. They’re more connected to what we care about most.
If we’re in a situation where we feel we have to hide who we are or act in a way that doesn’t fit our deepest beliefs, we feel inauthentic. An example might be giving in to peer pressure to do something that you know isn’t right. Ugh. That feels very uncomfortable because you know you’re not being true to yourself!
So what does all of this have to do with friendship? Well, to me, friendship means people knowing and caring about each other. To have a close friend, we have to share about our deepest selves–our thoughts, feelings, wishes, worries, struggles, and victories–and we have to learn about and respond in caring ways to all of those things in our friends.
Sometimes kids think they have to act a certain way to be accepted by certain people. But if you’re acting in ways that don’t fit your authentic self, well, that’s never going to build a real friendship, because the other people aren’t going to get to know or care about the real you.
On the other hand, sometimes we do things that we don’t especially like because we care about a friend. For instance, you might agree to play your friend’s favorite game, even though you like another game better, or you might watch your friend’s band concert even though you don’t play an instrument, or you might choose not to say an opinion that you know would hurt your friend’s feelings. These can be very authentic things to do because they fit our deepest values of kindness, generosity, and caring for a friend.
Which brings us to the answer to your question: Do we have to change ourselves to make friends? No, to make real friends, we have to show up as our most authentic, caring selves.
This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have a question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and click on the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.
And be sure to check out my funny and practical books for kids about friendship: Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends, and my new book, Growing Feelings: A Kids’ Guide to Dealing with Emotions About Friends and Other Kids. They’re available through your library or wherever you buy books.