Finding their Identity
A local organization is helping kids and teens to be themselves and believe in themselves
You could call Identity Kids a personal growth and development program for children. But that doesn’t begin to convey the excitement of bubble-blowing, hula hooping, toolkit building, art-making, self-discovery, fun and new friendships that participants enjoy.
PRO, the nonprofit Personal Responsibility Organization is the home of Identity and other self-development workshops. Its mission — and passion — is to empower adults, teens and kids to learn how to take personal responsibility for their actions and lives. This builds confidence and lessens anxiety and stress.
Why Identity workshops?
Identity Kids, established in 2014, helps children age 6 to 12 understand and believe in themselves in a fun and active way. They learn tools to help them appreciate their own uniqueness and value. This builds self-confidence and decreases anxiety.
“So many kids are leading lives online or virtually, on devices and phones,” Dr. Robin Bruck, founder of PRO said. “There is always anxiety about fitting in and belonging for school-age children and teens, but it’s heightened now because it’s twenty-four seven,” she said.
As a result, many kids don’t know how to relate in person. Those who are depressed or anxious feed off each other’s negativity online, making things worse, Bruck said. At Identity Kids and Identity Teen, phones are turned off, and they are free to be kids without hardware keeping them at a distance.
Through laughter and play in a fun environment, kids from all over easily connect with each other. This is especially helpful for children who are sensitive, shy, or who have trouble socializing and/or controlling their behavior.
“They come away from this program more cooperative, confident and independent,” said Dr. Bruck, who graduated from the Palmer College of Chiropractic.
One activity is to practice blowing bubbles — big ones. Kids learn that if they try to blow a bubble when they’re too excited or anxious, they can only blow little ones, because stress causes shallow and rapid breathing. When their breathing is deep and consistent, when they’re calm, they get big bubbles.
Learning to control something as basic as breathing is a tool worth mastering, because taking fuller breaths reduces stress and anxiety no matter your age, Dr. Bruck said. For children, learning that they can control distressing symptoms themselves is major.
Andrea Paquette is a holistic nurse practitioner and pediatric mental health specialist at Choices Counseling in Londonderry, and an Identity teacher. Six years ago, she was seeing Dr. Bruck as a chiropractor. Besides having neck and shoulder pain, Paquette was depressed and “wasn’t loving my job.”
“Robin suggested I attend Identity, but it took me a year to sign up. I had done a lot of self-development before, I thought, ‘Another class?’ But within the first hour I was inspired. Light bulbs were going off and within that first hour I knew I was going to be teaching it,” said Paquette.
The biggest message children and teens take from Identity workshops is that “You’re fine the way you are,” said Paquette. “You can make your own choices.”
Parents are more anxious these days too, and children feel it, Paquette added. “They think, ‘If mom is worried, maybe I can’t do this.’”
For one mom who experienced domestic violence witnessed by her two children, Identity Kids is a lifesaver. All three are in counseling and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But Mary (name withheld to protect her identity) has seen the quickest and most obvious change in her son and daughter from Identity Kids.
“They make ‘toolkits’ in the program to help handle their emotions when they start to feel upset or anxious or angry,” Mary said. “My daughter has one at home and one for school. They know when to use them and this gives them a feeling of power that they never had before.”
Derek Lynch is a guidance counselor in special education at Mountainview Middle School in Goffstown, coaches football at Manchester West High School, and is a volunteer facilitator for Identity Teen, which launched in 2017. He’s known Dr. Bruck since he was 16 and watched her create the program.
“We shared an interest in engaging with people and helping them be who they’re supposed to be. Identity is a place for kids to be themselves, not hide behind social media,” Lynch said.
Teens build self-confidence and trust in themselves through activities where they practice communication skills, problem-solving, and managing their energy, Bruck said.
“We have really interesting conversations about what they’re going through, dealing with. I think many are looking for more engagement and interaction with adults, not just being told what to do.”
It’s a nonjudgmental zone, Lynch added. “We provide an environment where teens can be themselves. In my experience, this generation of kids is different, more accepting of differences between people, and they are starting to think with more empathy.”
Paquette said one message is that you can say no to things and people that are not right for you; how to express your emotions and not to let a friend’s negative emotions affect you.
“We’ve gotten great feedback; the kids love it and come back and bring friends. But at the end of a session we get questions about bullying, social media — they’re dealing with serious stuff.”
One mother credits Identity for a surprising phone call from her son’s teacher. Instead of reporting that he was being bullied again, the teacher said that “John” saw a classmate in a tough situation who was about to “lose it.” He recognized the boy’s distress, took him aside, and helped him calm himself down using a skill John learned at Identity.
”Identity has been a real game-changer,” John’s mom said. “From a kid who was picked on for being weird and an unsocial ‘nerd,’ he’s come into his own. Now he appreciates his uniqueness. He’s got friends and is confident.”
This fall, at the second celebration fundraiser, the Identity Teen Award was given to high school senior Jenna Bolduc of Hooksett. She said, “Growth is a never-ending journey, but Identity helps guide you on your individual path. It’s taught me important life lessons I’ll carry with me forever.”
April Provencher of Manchester attended her first Identity workshop five years ago, after being invited by a friend. She enjoyed it so much she signed her son Asher up for Identity Kids three years ago. Now she is a PRO instructor.
Now that Asher is older, he volunteers and helps the younger kids, she said, and he’s excited about attending the Identity Teen workshop soon.
Identity Kids is especially helpful for children with anxiety, ADHD, or dealing with a lot of stress. When Asher started, Provencher said, he had trouble focusing and was anxious. “Over time he learned to use the tools — for example, he’ll tell me ‘I need to take 10 minutes to calm down,’” said Provencher.
For more information and to sign up for classes and workshops, go to www.proyou.org.
Mary Ellen Hettinger, APR is an award-winning reporter, editor and writer, and accredited public relations professional. She won a bronze award in 2017 from the Parenting Media Association her news feature on perfluorochemicals in NH’s water supply.