You know that feeling when you meet someone who's completely themselves and doing what they love in life? You want your kids to have that (heck, you want that!). So, how is that possible... and what is that feeling exactly? That thing you feel from that person — that energy — is someone who has high congruence. It's a technical-sounding term, right? You might even think it sounds like something you would've learned in math class. Essentially, though, high congruency is a feeling that every parent wants their child to feel — someone who is purposeful and aligned with the truth of who they are in every facet of their life. But inquiring minds need to know: How can parents help their children achieve high congruence?
The theory of congruency traces back to humanistic theorist Carl Rogers whose main ideas focused on personality and how it's linked to self-concept, thoughts, and feelings. As he sought to answer the question, "Who am I?" he found that people have two self-concepts: the ideal self, the person that you would like to be; and the real self, the person you actually are. He believed that we experience congruence when our real self also plays out our thoughts and actions about our ideal self. Incongruency occurs when the real self doesn't align with our ideal self. The higher congruency, the higher attuned we are to our ideal self. We're walking the walk, so to speak.
At this point, you're probably like, what TF does all that mean anyway? And more importantly, how can you help your kid get to this purposeful, aligned place without falling too far down some new age rabbit hole? Let this explainer be your guide.
What is high congruence?
If congruence is a state of being in which our thoughts about our real and ideal selves are very similar, then high congruence is when they pretty much match up. A highly congruent person knows who they are, what they can offer to their world, and leads a life that allows them to fulfill this self-concept of themselves. Someone with high congruence understands themselves deeply, including their dreams, desires, values, missions, and goals. They are not easily swayed by external influences and won't compromise on who they are because they are steadfast in their truth. Authenticity and integrity ooze from their pores.
According to Rogers, a person with high congruence is happy with who they are and sees the world as a positive place. On the other hand, someone who is incongruent isn't content with themselves because they aren't being true to their ideal self and, as such, typically sees the world through a negative lens.
How can parents help their kids achieve it?
Obviously, you wouldn't expect your kid to know precisely who they are and understand all of their deepest desires and dreams yet. Even so, you can shape your child to become someone who grows up with high congruence. How? First and foremost, offer your children unconditional love.
Rogers found that people raised in an environment of unconditional positive regard, under which a child doesn't have to prove themselves to have worth or value, are more likely to fulfill their ideal selves with their real selves and live a life of high congruence. Children raised in households where parents gave love and worth under conditional experiences were more likely to develop a sense of self removed from their ideal self. Those children tend to look for external influences to validate their sense of self.
In other words, helping children achieve high congruence may be attributed mainly to positive parenting, which focuses on happiness, resilience, and positive development for children.
What are some specific practices to try?
Just telling you to offer your child unconditional love seems pretty broad, huh? The following suggestions include more actionable ways to put your child on the path toward high congruence.
- Allow your child to experience what they're naturally drawn to. Are they curious about music? Do they want to learn more about animals? Even if your go-to isn't what they prefer — for example, you can't carry a tune, and you're allergic to the cat — encourage them to follow their innate impulses anyway.
- Have them keep a journal of what inspires them. Let your kid's imagination go wild. By freewriting what they love, what they're excited about, and what they dream of accomplishing, they can dig deep into the truth of who they are without distractions or falling prey to peer pressure.
- Get them to write their mission statement. How do they want to leave their mark on their world? What's important to them? How do they want to help others? By creating a mission statement, your child can get clear on their values and dreams. And, in the process, get to know themselves deeper and what they stand for.
- Have them own their mistakes. Owning up to their mistakes helps kids recognize when they're in and out of congruency and how that makes them feel. Learning through their failures is an essential tool for personal development; it helps them see they are still worthy even when they're not always right. This leads to a higher sense of confidence and more empathy for themselves and others, which leads to higher congruency.
- Make it clear to your child that their consequences are related to their behavior. This helps your child understand they are in control of their actions and its affects. For example, if your kid doesn’t wash their hands, they will not get a cookie.
- Avoid shaming your kids for their mistakes. Try to stay calm and avoid getting angry in front of them. Instead of enforcing punishment right away, open up a space for dialogue and talk about what happened.
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