It’s kind of a given that kids are different. I’ll admit though, I was a very naïve mom when my first was born, and I just couldn’t understand why other moms parented their way when obviously my way was the right way.
I’ve grown up since then.
I’ve now had my second, and I cannot believe how DIFFERENT the two of them are. Granted, neither one of them are very old, but I’ve already learned the important principle that you can’t parent the same way for every child.
There is a biological reason for this too. Not only are kids’ DNA unique, every child also has a unique temperament. Temperament is defined as, “Constitutionally based individual differences in reactivity and self-regulation in the domains of affect, activity, and attention.”1 Basically, biology has dictated how your child will respond to his environment, how he is able to regulate emotions, and how active he will be.
I like to think of temperament as what drives a child’s personality. Dr. Harvey Karp, writer of Happiest Toddler on the Block, has classified three general temperament styles: easy, shy, and spirited. I’ll admit, I laughed when I read “spirited.” My son is “spirited” and I think the words “crazy” or “maniacal” or “unbelievably busy” apply better, but “spirited” has a nicer ring to it. Now below I have placed a chart from Dr. Karp’s book to help you identify the temperament of your child. It’s actually important! And it makes parenting soooo much easier when you better understand your own child. Keep in mind though, this chart is specifically for children ages 1-5.
|Activity||Active||Likes quiet play||Fidgets a lot and is very active|
|Regularity||Predictable eating, sleeping||Predictable eating, sleeping||Unpredictable patterns|
|First reaction to new people||Interest||Reluctance||Either delight or rejection|
|Handles unexpected change||Easily||Reluctantly or unhappily||Easily, or gets very upset|
|Intensity of feelings||Mild/gentle||May be mild or spirited||Spirited/passionate|
|Usual mood||Happy/easygoing||Happy but easily thrown off balance||Big ups and downs|
|Persistence||Okay with not getting his way||May give up or be tenacious||Doesn't give up|
|Distractibility||Focused||Very focused||Easily distracted|
|Sensitive to noises/smells||Not much||Ultrasensitive||Not much, or a lot|
Now, your child will most likely not fit into every category for a certain temperament, but will probably fit a majority of options for one of them.
I want to stress something here though: NO TEMPERAMENT IS “BAD.”
Since my son is spirited, a lot of people (including me!) struggle with him. He is extremely busy and active, and always likes to have his way. My husband and I have really had to learn how to choose our battles with him. Since we are used to his ways, we can usually manage, and enjoy, him quite easily (well, relatively easily). Others though, don’t have as easy a time. They want to quickly punish him for his wrongdoing, and punishment isn’t wrong in and of itself, but they do it in a way that makes him angry. That does not work with my spirited son since he then wants to do the same thing and do it even worse.
So does this make my son a “bad kid?” NO! He is in fact an excellent little boy, and is very smart. You just have to know how to handle his temperament.
Parenting is dang hard. Like, really really hard. You start to get it down with one kid, and then they change, or you have another baby who is completely different! Want to know what makes parenting even harder? When you and your child have different temperaments.
So what is your temperament? Look at the above chart. Where do you think you fall in? Even though the chart is geared toward younger kids, the same can apply to you with a little tweaking.
Now think about how you and your child mesh. Or do you not mesh? Since that is completely possible too. With parenting, opposites don’t always attract, and it is usually more difficult to raise a child with a different temperament than yours.
Are you fairly active, but your son just wants to read a book?
Do you love meeting new people, but your daughter cries when in an unfamiliar place?
Are you quiet while your son is very loud and outspoken?
These differences can make it hard! That doesn’t make it impossible though.
I am a firm, FIRM, believer that we are blessed with our specific children for a reason. YOU were meant to be their mother. YOU. No one else. No matter how hard it gets, I know you can do it!
But wouldn’t it be nice if we could have some help first?
Well, that’s where these tips come in J Well, sorta. I have read a lot of research done by some actual experts, and I’m just passing their wisdom along!
1. Have a good relationship with your child
Be there for your daughter. Listen to your son when he wants to tell you something. The key is consistency. I’m not saying that you’re doomed if you have to finish dinner and can’t help your child that one time, but overall, just responding to their needs is what enables your children to feel like they can trust and rely upon you. When you have that good relationship, that is when kids have a better chance of listening to you and your rules. This trust as a child is basically the equivalent of respect as a teenager. “Fear” will only get you so far! Your children need to feel loved.
2. Establish some ground rules
If you’re married, or have a regular caregiver that isn’t you for your child, try to inform them of the rules so there can be consistency. (If you’re married, discuss the rules that you would like to make.) Again, there is that word: consistency. You will see a lot more bad behavior if the rules keep changing. Imagine how confusing that would be for a 2 year old! They can jump on the couch one day, but not the next? It just makes sense that there would be more tantrums and difficulties if there weren’t any consistency. Children really do like routines; they thrive on them in fact. Have you ever noticed how kids often struggle with vacations or extended trips to new places? It is because everything changed very suddenly, and their only way to respond is typically with bad behavior.
3. Don’t try to change your child’s temperament
Even if you aren’t blending well, your child’s temperament isn’t going to change. You just have to learn how to deal with, and love, it regardless. Try to focus on the strengths your child has instead of his weaknesses. Take my spirited son for example. I could look at his persistence as annoying since he doesn’t like to let things go when I say “no.” But instead, I try to see it as a positive since that means he works very hard at new activities to try and figure them out himself instead of just giving up.
4. Find some common ground
Even if you are completely different from your son or daughter, there is BOUND to be at least one thing you enjoy doing together. My dad and brother are very different people. My dad grew up playing sports, and my brother prefers video games or just non-competitive activities. Well, my dad LOVES to mountain bike, and it turns out that my brother really enjoys riding his bike too. So an activity that they can do together is riding to different places and enjoying each other’s company that way. You don’t have to like doing everything with your child. You just need to try to show interest in their interests, and love them for who they are. That is all a child ever needs: LOVE.
It really is difficult to parent a child with a different, or even just a difficult, temperament, but it IS possible. And you were MEANT to be the mother to your sweet little child. And I believe prayer can help you overcome any challenges you have with your kids as well. Pray for strength, pray for courage, and pray for patience, and God will grant you with it since He loves those sweet children too. Don’t give up! You’re amazing, truly.
- The Process of Parenting, Eighth Edition. Brooks, J. 2010.
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