Embracing Your Uniqueness and True Self As Tweens to Teens: Parent Guide

Reviewed by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Hayley Vaughan Smith, Person Centred Counsellor and The Ridge Practice and Everlief Child Psychology
Author: Hayley Vaughan-Smith, Person-Centred Counsellor

Humans are utterly unique. Even identical siblings are unique individuals with their own personalities, shaped by environment and experiences. So is it beneficial to help our 11-13s embrace their uniqueness?

Our children’s personalities develop through understanding their cultural and ethnic identity, experiencing emotional changes, trying new things and making good choices.

I’ll argue in this article that part of our role as good parents is to embrace and celebrate our child’s individual strengths and qualities, and encourage a freedom of expression and curiosity.

A boy smiling

Finding Your True Self as a Tween

A child’s development during adolescence can be a time of great change particularly between 11 and 13 years of age.

This is typically when they are starting to think about themselves in the bigger picture and understand their own identity.

Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson stated that:

“If adolescents are supported in their exploration and given the freedom to explore different roles, they are likely to emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self and a feeling of independence and control. This process involves exploring their interests, values, and goals, which helps them form their own unique identity.”

Embracing uniqueness can help boost our children’s self-esteem and happiness, build confidence and open their minds up to new ideas and experiences.

Essentially, we are saying “you’re OK the way you are”.

Read on to find out what helping 11-13 year-olds embrace their uniqueness looks like.

What Makes Your Tween Unique?

Identify Your Tween Child’s Individual Strengths

Your child may have a neurodivergent diagnosis (such as ASD, ADHD) or they may just have strengths that appear uncommon or unique when compared to their peers.

What would you identify as your own child’s strengths?

Here are some examples:

  • Creative
  • Challenger of norms
  • Caring
  • Resourceful
  • Analytical
  • Critical thinker
  • Funny
  • Daring
  • Original
  • Photographic memory
  • Curious
  • Imaginative
  • Loyal
  • Independent

Identifying strengths in your child helps to bring awareness to them and this bolsters your child’s positive sense of self.

You can try out Dr Lucy Russell’s strengths cards activity using our free downloadable set of strengths cards!

Unique Interests and Hobbies in Your Tween

As parents, we sometimes find ourselves directing our children towards hobbies or clubs, outlets or new activities.

Maybe you have an interest of your own which you’d like your children to also enjoy?

If your child shows an interest in something, whatever it is, try and explore it with them. As parents, we have to check-box the practical considerations of course.

Enabling your child to channel something they can engage with is incredibly positive.

Here are some more ‘unusual and unique’ activities to inspire you.

  • Chess
  • Bird watching
  • Warhammer
  • Niche sports e.g. fencing
  • Photography
  • Politics
  • Gourmet cooking
A boy and his dad gardening at an allotment

Activities should be fun and engaging and ultimately fulfilling.

For 11-13 year olds, new experiences and new activities can provide a source of social imagination alongside the development of new skills and expertise.

Helping Tweens Embrace Their True Selves: The Beauty of Individuality

Why Being Different is a Strength

In a world where many people try to emulate, please others & blend in, being different can be refreshingly positive.

Everyone is ‘different’ anyway.

So why not be a different kind of different!

Being different can be exciting. It can open up incredible opportunities for learning and growing. Being different could set your child on a path that leads to personal and professional fulfilment.

As a parent though, it can be difficult for us to embrace our children’s differences. In the adolescent years being different can be painful because it can draw negative attention in the form of teasing or bullying.

We want to protect our children but I recommend reflecting on wanting them to “fit in”, and consider whether in fact you could find ways to support your child to stand out and be their authentic selves.

Historical and Modern Examples of Individuality

Throughout history, there have been pioneers and leaders in industry, politics, the arts – people who have embraced their uniqueness and shared it with the world by standing out from the crowd.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford was an American industrialist and business magnate – “Be ready to revise any system, scrap any method, abandon any theory, if the success of the job requires it”.

He was a neurodivergent visionary who used his individuality and curiosity to power forward the automotive industry.

I’m sure there are many examples today, but 2 people who stand out (for different reasons) are people who have developed their own individual paths, style and identity over time.

Harry Styles

Harry Styles is a singer songwriter and actor. After leaving a successful group, Harry became an independent performing artist and developed his own absolutely unique approach to fashion and expression through colour, texture and style.

Katie Piper OBE

Katie Piper is a burns survivor, writer, television presenter and model.

Through adversity, Katie has embraced her uniqueness, built her profile & used her voice to help other burns victims and their families gain access to support.

Challenges of Being Different as a Tween and Early Teen

Navigating Peer Pressure

Being different can affect your child in different ways. The best ways are when they are noticed, heard and accepted for being different, for being ‘them’.

However, some children with differences can find it difficult to fit into the high school peer group and meet societal expectations. The reality is, their differences may be mis-understood, rejected or teased about.

You may notice that this age group can be quite judgmental towards each other. Social challenges with best friends and peer relationships can often lead to emotional ups and downs.

If your child is different, encourage them to find someone or some people in their age group who are ‘their people’.

By this, I mean that they are accepting and embracing of whoever your child is. This will help them to feel empowered and self-assured.

Three girls sat together each with a notebook open. The first girl reads from hers as the other two react with smiles

When Being Unique Feels Lonely

Being unique can feel isolating and lonely at times, especially if your child doesn’t yet fully understand their uniqueness.

Children can start to worry that their differences make them stick out like a sore thumb, when all they want is to feel wanted and accepted.

This is when parental support is essential. Remember, you are your child’s safe-base and when they receive unconditional love, reassurance and acceptance from you, their world feels less scary and more manageable.

It’s really important for them to find ways to connect when they feel lonely or isolated. You can help them with this by:

  • Helping them reach out to people they already know.
  • Talking together.
  • Teaching them how to be self-compassionate.
  • Doing some forward planning. Put things in the diary that they can look forward to or prepare for.

Parental Support in Navigating Uniqueness for Tweens and Early Teens

Helping 11-13 year-olds embrace their uniqueness requires patience and understanding.

The most important thing to do is to let your child know their own personal feelings and beliefs matter. Even if they are different from yours or their peers, provide them with a framework in which to explore them in the context of their world.

Everyday life can be busy. The good thing is that a child’s brain is like a sponge – ready to take on board new information and new challenges.

When your child is different, extra support from a wider network of friends or family members can enrich their experiences even further.

We need to nurture children to enable them to grow into adults with a strong sense of self. Adults who know who they are and what they mean in the world have every chance to be successful and fulfilled.

How you can support your child’s individuality.

  • Teach your child to be true to themselves by doing the same yourself.
  • Help them to learn how to make positive choices – encourage boldness and curiosity, self-reflection and understanding natural consequences.
  • Own your mistakes and show up – this teaches your child that no-one is perfect and we all make mistakes

Providing a Safe Space For Your Tween

When a child who is unique or different experiences the world, it may look and feel very different from your own experience or expectation.

In order to minimize distress, anxiety or worry in their world, creating a safe space in which to talk or just be is essential.

This might be a space in which they can tackle difficult conversations or express their emotions without recrimination. Or, it might be a decompressing zone to help them regulate their emotions or self-soothe.

Affirming Conversations With Your Tween

It can be incredibly beneficial to foster open dialogue with children to address their curiosity and questions about the differences they notice in themselves compared with others.

You may not have all the answers yourself but can find you discover them together.
You can do this by listening, reflecting and acknowledging what you see and what they observe in themselves.

What are affirmations?

Affirmations are usually statements that help build and improve self-esteem by challenging and shifting negative thinking patterns and replacing them with positive ones.

The benefits to your child may include:

  • Motivation
  • Reduction in stress
  • Increase in self confidence
  • Better awareness of themselves
  • Resilience building


Embracing Uniqueness in Tweens and Teens: School Life

School should be (and mostly is), a safe environment for children to be themselves. Social connections are really critical for this age group.

If your tween or young teen who is different or unique to others is struggling, spending quality time with good friends can be a really great way to support mental health and develop their sense of self.

If your child finds social communication more difficult, focus on the activities or outlets that make them feel safe and grounded.

a group of teens chatting next to school lockers

Standing Out vs. Fitting In as a Tween

Where does your child feel most comfortable?  Out in the spotlight, or blending into the crowd. 

Either place is okay. They may need help in finding out where they can be them. 

When trying something for the first time, your child may feel nervous or vulnerable.  It might feel embarrassing and following the crowd may be the safest way of getting over a new hurdle. 

They may need time to work out where they feel most able to deal with new situations.

Encouraging Self-Expression in Your Tween or Teen

Helping young people embrace their uniqueness through self-expression will aid their discovery about themselves.

However, self-expression can take practice, experience and making mistakes!

Self-expression is almost always a positive to be encouraged. The exception would be if their expression of difference and uniqueness potentially harms others (for example if your child adopted the misogynistic views of someone like Andrew Tate).

How your child expresses themselves will tell you so much about them, so listen and observe and try to hop into their world from time to time. Which of these methods (or others I haven’t thought of) does your child use to express themselves?

  • The way they dress
  • Speaking out about their views.
  • Writing.
  • The music they listen to or make.
  • Their hobbies or passions.
  • Following an idol such as a sportsperson or pop star, or a sports team.
back view of tween bot raising arms in triumph

Helping Tweens and Teens Embrace Their Uniqueness: The Role of Social Media

Most young people use social media platforms.

Some use social media to seek validation and ideas about what is current, cool and accepted in society.

There are mixed viewpoints about the negative and positive impact of social media use. It’s always a good idea to talk to your child about why and how they like to use it.

Digital Trends and Individuality in the Tweens and Early Teens

TikTok is probably the most used social platform amongst young people, with Snapchat and Discord following behind.

TikTok encourages unique content that showcases individualism. The downside can be that there is an emphasis on physical appearance, body image and being popular in social groups.

Teaching Careful Consumption of Media to Encourage Individuality and Independent Thinking

We are all bombarded with media output. Newsfeeds, advertising, promotions, some of it real, some of it fake.

As parents, we need to teach our children about the critical consumption of media.

Teach them how to evaluate what they see on tv shows and get them to self-monitor their social media use and ensure they are able to identify trustworthy sources.

tween girl taking a selfie

Building Confidence in Children’s Uniqueness as Tweens and Teens

How we think about ourselves is fundamentally what makes our self-esteem and there are lots of activities that children can do to boost this in their mental health toolkit.

Activities to Boost Self-Esteem for Tweens

  • Set achievable goals.
  • Relaxation and recreation. For example playing games, swimming or trying a competitive sport.
  • Do something they love e.g. cooking, crafting, listening to music, playing an instrument.
  • Unfollow accounts that make them feel inadequate or bad about themselves.

Encouraging Authenticity of Identity in Tweens and Teens

Being authentic is the very best way for children to recognise and trust their own feelings regardless of whether they are good or bad.

By being authentic, they can act in a way that is aligned with their values now and beyond into adult life.

Learning to identify their values will help your child live an authentic life.

Preparing for the Teenage Years

Individuality as a Foundation for Adolescence

The adolescent years are a time of big change and it can often feel like a roller coaster for young people while they work out who they are.

Expressing individuality can be a liberating experience through the teenage years.

Celebrating Milestones of Independence and Authenticity in Tweens

The teen years are stepping stones towards independence and with this comes new and exciting experiences!

As a young person matures into a young adult, they will inevitably start spending time with people other than their parents. They may start romantic relationships too. This is all completely normal and gives them the freedom to be their individual selves.

When Might Your Child Need Professional Help?

Helping 11-13 year-olds embrace their uniqueness may require extra support if the relationship with their uniqueness causes a dip in their wellbeing, or they feel they can’t express their unique identity for some reason.

If your child is struggling through the tween and early teen years with embracing being unique or different, you may want to consider accessing some professional help to explore their identity.

A counsellor or clinical psychologist can help address concerns including low self-esteem, anxiety and depression and identity.

Helping Tweens Embrace Their Uniqueness: Conclusions

Helping 11-13 year-olds embrace their uniqueness can create a lifelong legacy for your child.

Encourage your child to embrace who they are here, now and in the future. This inclusive approach will support a positive self-image which they can take with through to early adulthood and beyond.

Related Articles

Gender Identity: A Guide for Parents and Teachers

Is Your Child Not Fitting In At School? Here’s How to Help Them

Essential Ways to Help Your Child Manage Online Friendships

Hayley Vaughan-Smith is a Person-Centred Counsellor accredited by the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Society. She is the founder and counsellor at The Ridge Practice in Buckinghamshire, and counsellor at Everlief Child Psychology.

Hayley has a special interest in bereavement counselling and worked as a bereavement volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care for four years.

Hayley is mum to 3 grown up girls, and gardening and walking in nature is her own personal therapy. Hayley believes being in nature, whatever the weather, is incredibly beneficial for mental health well-being.

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