Parenting A Child Whose Personality Does Not Resonate With Your Own

With young children, we tend to be very focused on behavior. Which is understandable because they are wild, and they behave wildly. However, there is more to parenting than just behavior management. The other side of the coin is developing a relationship with each child. And that means seeing what each child brings to this world. Learning about who they are. Acknowledging their best qualities. Mirroring back to them the beauty you see in their soul.

But, what if one of your kids is, well, different?

Having a child whose temperament doesn’t resonate with our own, can be one of the bigger challenges of parenthood. It’s easy to connect with, and thus positively reinforce, the temperament of a child who is like us or that we easily appreciate. It can be much harder with a kid who is very different from us.

Perhaps you have one child who is very outgoing and bubbly, and another whom you see as quiet and withdrawn. If you’re a gregarious extrovert, your instinct may be to encourage the quiet one to be more socially forward. But, that quiet child may not be “withdrawn.” They may simply be thoughtful and private. They may prefer one or two carefully selected friends whom they pick after much evaluation.

We all tend to see the world, and others, thru the filter of our own experiences. However, we are also capable of empathy. We can step back and imagine being and feeling and experiencing the world as a different person. This is an important parental skill. Because our children are not us. Even when they are like us, they are not us. They are themselves.

Learning to see them for who they are, allows us to reflect some of that back to them. This is one of the most validating, and loving things you can offer your child. It says, “I see who you are, and I love who you are.”

With a child you don’t easily understand, this becomes especially important. You will need to be careful to not favor an easier sibling or tend to see the “different” kid through critical eyes. You may have to work to identify and nurture strengths that seem strange to you.

Imagine you’ve made contact with an alien species. You have the honor of being among the first people to get to know this unusual beastie. Who will this remarkable creature be? How will she surprise you? How can you make her comfortable on this planet? Let her see your joy in discovering and knowing her.

If you’re concerned that you’re not doing this job well then get some outside perspective and help. Trusted friends or family may be able to offer you key insights. Otherwise look for guidance from child development experts, counselors, or family therapists. Even a few visits with a professional can help us see things from a fresh angle that gets a relationship moving in a good direction.

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Kathleen Cawley

Kathleen Cawley

Physician Asst., twin mom, author of “Navigating Modern Parenthood: Warty Truths and Wisdom from an Older Mom with Twins.” Coming out spring/summer 2022.