As parents we often come face-to-face with differences within our own children. Why is this child so sensitive? Why does that child become so easily frustrated? When it comes to our children’s personalities and temperament, researchers have told us that 50 percent is innate–meaning our children are born with 50 percent of these traits, and the remaining 50 are learned from their environment. My experiences are right in line with the research.
My two nephews are very close in age and were raised in the same environment. Though they have learned similar ways to express feelings or problem solve, they have distinctly different temperaments. Nate, the oldest, was easy as a child. He slept anywhere, ate whatever you gave him and was happiest when he was around others. His brother Luke, however, had colic as a baby. He needed routines when it came to bed time, tolerated only certain foods and though social, he was also easily amused playing by himself. As they have grown, I have noticed that these traits still show up. Nate is the class clown. Luke is well organized and while he enjoys his friends, he’s more of a leader.
As parents, the differences in our children obviously impact our parenting. How we teach, respond or discipline children must change to meet the needs of the child. How can we not only respond differently to children based upon their traits, but also support their individuality?
A friend of mine was recently talking about her child being “too sensitive.” As we talked, it became clear to me that she was afraid her child would be easily hurt by others. She was trying to identify ways to “toughen” her up and balance out her sensitivity. I encouraged her to think instead about the positive aspect of her child’s sensitivity: her daughter’s empathy and ability to understand others’ feelings. Was this something she wanted to change? By the end of the conversation the focus had changed from her wanting to change her daughter to thinking about ways she could support her and see her sensitivity as a strength versus something that needed to be fixed.
As parents it is certainly our job to teach our children the skills they need to navigate the world–and some things need to be “fixed” or changed. However, I think who our children are at their core, the traits that define who they are – those we need to nurture.