Tuesday, August 4, 2009
WHO ARE YOU?
The little boy is always very happy sitting and playing with his trucks and toys. Even though he is only two, sometimes he will concentrate on his play for forty-five minutes at a time. Sometimes he likes to lie on the floor with a toy in his hand, talking quietly to himself. His mother finds herself frustrated and impatient with his inactivity, and worried about his health. She is very active, and values exercise. She wants her son to be healthy and fit. She had looked forward to having a child to play soccer and other sports with, but when she tries to engage him in physical activity, he usually shies away and heads back to his toys.
The toddler enjoys familiar places the most. When she is taken to new places, she is uncomfortable, and it takes her quite awhile for her to settle in to her new surroundings. Her parents find this difficult, because they like to take their family to lots of new places and they want to expose her to many new adventures. But she is so unhappy during these outings that her fussing makes it unpleasant for everyone.
The father is worried because his young son seems to have few friends. The toddler likes to play with only one other child, and hasn't yet formed friendships with anyone else, even though the parents have taken the him to playgroups since he was an infant. This dad finds that his many friendships are one of the most important parts of his life. He wants his children to find the joy in friendship that has been so important to him. He is worried that his son will not have very many friends and will be lonely.
Sometimes the little girl is downright "difficult." This is ok at home, but when the child expresses her strong opinions when other people are around, her mother gets very uncomfortable. She was raised to believe that it's important to fit in with others, and to put others' needs ahead of your own. She wants her daughter to have good social skills so that she will have friends, and be accepted. She worries that other children, as well as adults, will find this strong-willed child unlikeable. But she doesn't know what to do about it: her daughter simply has very intense feelings and expresses them very loudly!
In each of these families, the parents want the best for their children, but are worried because the child does not seem to be what the parents expected. They all wonder if there is something more they could or should be doing about it: can they somehow "make" their child more active, more adaptable, more social, or more calm?
Do these parents' struggles mirror anything that you have been through as a parent? Before their first child is born, most parents have ideas of what parenthood will be like, what their child "should" be like, and what their values are as a family. This is all normal and natural. The only problem is, eventually the child comes along and shows us that all these ideas just don't seem to apply anymore!
Every child is unique, and we have limited power to mold them into something that they are not. An low-activity person, such as the first toddler described above, cannot be shaped into a highly active child at the parent's insistence. And all the wishes and willpower in the world will not make a slow-to-adapt child "hurry up" and get used to a new environment more quickly.
Children are who they are. As you slowly get to know them over the first three years of your lives together, you may or may not recognize them as being similar to you. But whether they share many temperament traits with either parent or not, they are going to be themselves, no matter what.
We parents waste quite a lot of relationship-energy on trying to "change" our kids. We would be better off using all that energy to observe and learn about our kids as they are. And then we could offer the best of ourselves to them, offer them experiences and opportunities that both challenge them and match their strengths, and most of all, accept them for the unique and irreplaceable person that they are.
We can't change our children, but face it: our children change us.
Posted by ANNIE CASTLE DECKERT, M.ED.PSYCH.