Expert Reveals How Parents Can Encourage Individuality As Kids Head Back To School - Exclusive

Another summer has flown by, and the start of school is just around the corner. (Depending on where you live, it may already have begun!) But preparing your child for school is more than just stocking up on composition notebooks and ballpoint pens; it's equally important to make sure they feel supported and encouraged for who they are. According to a study from the University of Washington, a child's sense of self-esteem is already established by age 5, so it's never too early to nurture it by encouraging their individuality.

The List spoke to parenting expert, author, mentor, and CEO of Parenting Evolution, Cathy Domoney. She explains, "As parents, we know our children better than anyone in the world, and we should always trust our intuition on how to handle each situation that comes our way with each of our unique children." One of the most prominent ways children express themselves is through their appearance: clothes, hair, and accessories. Purple dye may not be your style, but your child may feel more confident with a streak or two in their hair. And if your kindergartener loves mixing stripes with polka dots or wearing mismatched socks, why not?

Keep your child's feelings and their school's policies in mind

Taking your kids with you to shop for back-to-school outfits and accessories will give them autonomy over their self-expression. At the same time, be aware of any school dress code policies, adds parenting expert Cathy Domoney: "We can choose to respect and honor our uniqueness while respecting and honoring others at the same time."

When in doubt, ask the school: Are ripped jeans acceptable? Can your preschooler wear pajamas or a princess costume to class? If a "Love Is Love" shirt goes against the rules, would a rainbow backpack be okay? 

If your school's policies unfairly interfere with your child's individuality, it may be time to reconsider your options. In 2018, a Louisiana school came under fire for refusing to let a Black student wear hair extensions, via NBC News. The family argued that the school's natural-hair rules were discriminatory, and placed their daughter in another school.

Domoney kept individuality in mind when choosing a school for one of her children. Her daughter, who had been bullied in previous years, considered her ear piercings an important part of her identity. One of the schools on Domoney's list had a strict policy against multiple earrings, so she and her husband crossed it off their list. "As parents, we understood that the emotional and personal price of this change would have been too high," she says. "We found the right place for her where she was accepted as she was."