Part 2: Learning your Child’s Style
My previous post was on Finding your Parenting Style (Part 1). Finding my own parenting style was really my first step in becoming a more balanced and effective parent. However, I soon realized that, in order to effectively parent my kids, I also needed to learn who they were, to really study them and learn their own styles. They had different personalities and responded to me differently.
I could read books and websites about parenting strategies but they didn’t necessarily work or maybe they would for one child but not the other.
Greta (13) is logical and responsible, sociable and almost unflappable but when she is with her friends she can become closed and distant. Oliver is a dreamer, humorous, always wondering aloud, and he likes to play with one friend at a time. They each respond to my requests quite differently. Greta usually goes to do what I have asked right away and Oliver stops to pet the cat, look up a cool car on the internet, tell me a joke, and then forgets what I asked him to do. He needs a list. When he has a list of what he needs to do, he gets it done and enjoys checking it off, whereas Greta can accomplish all the things I asked her to do without needing reminders. While transitioning between tasks on his list, Oliver still stops to pet the cat, look up a cool car online and tell us jokes but he can complete the tasks without needing further reminders, if he has a list.
When Greta is upset or has done something wrong, a hug usually brings her around. Giving her a lecture is unnecessary and even creates a deeper divide between us because she already knows what she did was wrong and has gotten angry at herself for it. When Oliver is upset or has done something wrong, he needs time alone. Talking more about it during the height of emotion only creates more defensiveness in him and more frustration in me because he won’t admit to his mistakes (he’s a little like me that way – shhh!). When he has had time alone, he willingly comes back and can talk about what went wrong.
It’s natural to think that my kids should listen to me when I reprimand them but if I really want them to listen, I need to learn when they are most prepared to listen. Greta needs a hug and to know I am on her team. Oliver needs time alone to process and become more emotionally balanced again.
The best way to get to know your child’s style is to spend time with them (to study them) and experiment with different approaches to see how they respond. Lying down with your kids in bed before tucking them in each night is a great way of getting to know what is happening in their heads. This is the time when they are often the most calm, reflective, and willing to talk about their day.
Interrogating questions do not foster conversation but kind, honest questions and personal reflection of your own probably do. Or just be quiet and lie side by side together. Conversation inevitably bubbles up. This is also often a good time to debrief on any major issues that may have come up during the day, as long as you are addressing them with a reflective rather than an aggressive tone (“I wonder why Noah seemed frustrated when you were playing today?”).
Other ways to study your child is to see how they respond whey they stay up too late at night, haven’t eaten in several hours, have just eaten sweets, played video games, had caffeinated drinks, watched a scary or action-packed movie, or after spending time with a big group. All of these things can disregulate children in their emotions (melt-down) and all of a sudden we are getting angry at them for their behaviour in a situation where we could have helped them to avoid the trigger.
Oliver gets ornery before bedtime and the later he stays up at night, the earlier he wakes in the morning, because he becomes disregulated. Why not then, for his sake, give him a consistent early-ish bedtime so he can function well. Greta is a night owl but she is ornery in the morning so it is best to give her 30 minutes in the morning before expecting an agreeable conversation with her. In her case, I make sure to wake her well enough before she will need to be functional for an event or interpersonal interaction.
When I know my kids’ personalities, I know how to respond to them and what to expect of them. Learning about my kids has benefited me a lot more than reading any parenting book ever could. I have learned that I much prefer to read people and get to know them. And it definitely pays off in relationships.
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