How many times have you asked her to straighten up her room, to no avail -- while her sister does it of her own accord? How many times have you tried to have a philosophical discussion with him, to no avail -- while his older brother is always available to talk (but absent-minded when it comes to practicalities)? How many times have you asked her to babysit for you, to no avail (or requiring a big scene!) -- while her younger sister can't think of anything more enjoyable?
How many rewards, punishments, tutors, tests, exercises have you used to try to change them -- all to no avail?
Each child has a unique personality and individual perspective on the world. We can fine-tune them, we can direct and channel their energies, but we can't change their basic natures. And we shouldn't try. What we really need to do is to understand what's special and different about each of them and appreciate it.
How could children brought up in the same house behave so differently?
Easier said than done. Each child is a complex human being. And not the same as you. They are born with a unique set of physical and psychological traits, and individualized tests and challenges. Frequently you hear parents lament: "How could children brought up in the same house behave so differently?"
This is a mistaken perspective. Each child is brought up in a different house. Your first-born arrives in a home where there are no other children and two very inexperienced parents. Your youngest children receives the benefits of your greater experience and the love of siblings, along with a greater need to share, less space, more hand-me-downs...
Have you ever played the "love game"? (No, it's not on any cable TV channel.) You go around the table and tell each person seated there what you love about them. And it's not the same for anyone; not if you're really thinking about it. Your children are not carbon copies of you or your husband, or even an obvious mix. Sometimes their way is totally different than yours.
You have two alternatives. You can keep banging your head against the wall trying to get them to behave like you, or you can look a little closer and appreciate what they have to offer.
I have one child who is very messy. I'm a neat freak. I can't function without order. I'm embarrassed to say that I spent many years yelling at this child to straighten up her room. She would make the effort when the pain got to her, but a few days (hours!) later her room would revert to its more primal state.
Finally, after repeatedly reading books on personality types, I took a second look at my daughter. She wasn't cavalier to my demands; it just wasn't part of her makeup. She likes to function in a world of chaos and jumble and excitement. She's a free spirit who needs room to jump and dance and make artistic projects and express herself. Being forced to have a neat room felt like shutting her down. And it didn't resonate with her.
She's a free spirit who needs room to jump and dance and express herself.
So I gave up the battle. Her room is now presentable. It's not spotless or orderly, but we aren't fighting and struggling constantly. And I'm enjoying what she can teach me about other ways of being.
The Talmud says: "Who is wise? He who learns from everyone." Don't make the mistake of thinking that parenting is a one-way street -- you do all the teaching, they do all the receiving. While there is a lot of that, there is also much to be learned from our children, and we should take advantage of that opportunity.
It's frequently pointed out that very young children can teach us about awe -- everything in the world around them is fresh and new and exciting. Some people never lose that. Maybe one of your children has that personality type. Maybe it takes them forever to get places because they're busy looking around. Stop yelling at them to speed up (it won't help anyway) and try to see what they're looking at. You might find you enjoy it, too.
It can't be overemphasized that nagging will not change your child's behavior (does it ever work to change yours?!), particularly when it involves an integral part of their being. And why do you want to anyway?
Everyone in the class is invited to a party and your daughter doesn't want to go. You beg her, you plead with her, you tell her what a good time she'll have -- but she's adamant about staying home. Unless she has serious ongoing social problems, your daughter is probably an introvert. She prefers home and quiet activities and a few close friends. Don't push her. Enjoy her ability to entertain herself and her clarity about her needs.
Your son on the other hand is never home. Always out with the boys -- bike riding, building forts, throwing a ball, eating at friends' houses, organizing parties. "What's wrong with our home?" you may think. Nothing, but your son is an extrovert and feels most alive in the middle of lots of people and action and excitement. A quiet night of reading in front of the fire may be your daughter's fantasy (or your fantasy), but will drive your son bananas. Don't force it. Take pleasure in his energy and spirit.
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You have a very inquisitive daughter, consumed with trying to understand the whys of life. It's wearing on your patience and energy. Why so many questions? Why so much thinking? She is probably a more abstract personality whose mind takes pleasure in flights of fancy and philosophical debate. Recognize the power of such a mind channeled for good. If you get tired of the questions (as we all do), find her other resources. But don't discourage her quest.
Your son has no interest in such discussions. "Boring!" he exclaims. He's busy building a tree house, measuring and sawing pieces of wood. He thinks about business and may be preoccupied determining what price to sell his candy to make a profit. Your son is a more concrete thinker, more down-to-earth and practical. Take advantage of his skills when the occasion arises and engage with him in the areas that interest him. He's not interested in his sister's discussions and you won't build your relationship with him by pushing it.
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It's a privilege to have children who are sensitive to others and unashamed of their emotional lives.
Maybe your daughter or your son cries at the drop of a pin. They're more sensitive and emotional. You don't need to toughen them up. You just need to recognize this quality and perhaps help them learn when to express their feelings publicly and when to keep them more private. It's a privilege to have children who are sensitive to others and unashamed of their own emotional lives.
Maybe your child rarely cries. Maybe you cry at every old movie and they laugh at you. They are not emotionally repressed or stagnant. They are probably governed by their minds more than their hearts. They are likely to be more rational, more able to view a situation objectively. This is a tremendous strength. Don't downplay it.
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Finally (as if there's ever a final word on parenting or personalities!), some children are very rules-bound. They're obedient. They do their homework on time. They yell at you every morning that they're going to be late for school! These children usually make decisions easily and are dependable and reliable. Sometimes they seem a little sober for children. Sometimes they make their less-organized siblings crazy. Sometimes their less-organized siblings make them crazy. They lack spontaneity, they may even seem dull. This is the way the Almighty made them. See the good.
At the other end of the spectrum is the impulsive, whimsical child who likes to postpone decision-making as long as possible, who finds rules restrictive and authority oppressive. This child can't make a decision on a new blouse without consulting all their friends, the saleswoman and the man selling ice cream on the corner. Shopping with such a child requires patience in large quantities. Yet this child is also very tolerant and accepting of others, and is frequently the one to suggest a spur-of-the-moment family adventure. Some of their qualities are frustrating; some are a lot of fun.
MY KID IS ALRIGHT
Our children are as varied as we are. As with all generalizations there are exceptions. The point is not rigidity but understanding. Sometimes there are other, deeper psychological issues at stake. If this is the case, then professional help should be sought. But most often, it is helpful to just understand who this little person is.
Look at all the different kinds of beauty the Almighty has created for us.
To explore the possible personality types you're enjoying/challenged by, read one of the recommended books: "Appreciating People" by Miriam Adahan, and "Type Talk" by Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen
Whenever I go to an aquarium, I'm amazed at the variety of fish in the world. "Look at all the different kinds of beauty the Almighty has created for us," I tell my children. He does us an even bigger kindness in the variety of our children. Their beauty is greater and deeper. Let's not forget to appreciate it.
Children are an opportunity for us to learn and grow, change and lift to new heights (and sometimes unfortunately sink to new lows). Take a deep breath, relax, and say, "I guess my kid's alright after all." And maybe you can even say "What a special kid. Better than alright!"