News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

.   WHY CHILDREN DON’T COME WITH A RETURN POLICY
     When I want to purchase a car, I can take it for a test drive. When buying a new home, I can go through as many open houses as I like before I select one. When I buy a new shirt, I can return it if it doesn’t match what I already have in my closet.

  What a surprise when you have a child and you don’t get a test drive. You can’t try out different children before you pick the one you want. And you can’t decide how well this new child will fit into your family before you bring him or her home.

  To make matters even more difficult, children are all unique. They are complex people, whose many components need to be considered at every turn. Parenting each child requires a separate game plan which needs updating regularly.

  Children are born with an innate set of traits known as temperament. These qualities are a part of who our children are. It is how they are born, just as some children have blue eyes and others have brown. Children’s temperaments are described along nine distinct continuums with each child falling along the range for each characteristic:

       CHARACTERISTIC        CONTINUUM                          
 ACTIVITY LEVEL  
        Highly active....................Very quiet
 REGULARITY 
        Very regular....................Highly irregular
 ADAPTABILITY (to changes) 
          Adapts quickly.................Adapts slowly
 FIRST REACTION (to new situations) 
         Jumps in..................Withdrawal
 PHYSICAL SENSITIVITY  
        Low sensitivity..................Highly sensitive
 INTENSITY OF REACTION 
            Mild reactions...................Intense reactions
 DISTRACTIBILITY 
         Not easily distracted...................Very easily distracted  OVERALL MOOD 
         Positive outlook...................Negative outlook
 PERSISTENCE 
         Long attention span....................Short attention span

  Beyond these nine temperamental traits, children often have a preferred communication style. Some are more analytical, and need to reflect on the events before they can focus on their emotions. Others are more guided by their feelings, and need to acknowledge their emotions before they can think about what to do.

  Even learning styles vary among children. Some learn by seeing, others by hearing, and still others by doing. Some need the details to build to the whole larg-er concept, while others need to understand the main point before they can retain the particulars. And sometimes children are a combination of the above at different ages and in different areas.

 Furthermore, we parents also have our own inborn temperaments, communication preferences, and learning styles. The degree to which our children match with our style is known as goodness of fit. What one family views as difficult may blend quite nicely into the next family. For example, a highly energetic child may "fit" quite easily into a sports oriented, adventuresome clan. Yet that same child placed into a quiet, introspective, book-loving family may be viewed as a challenge.

 Who our children are is not innately good or bad, but often is a function of our interpretation of their behavior and of how good the fit is with our own styles. We can manage or encourage some of our children’s traits but we cannot change them. Sometimes our children are so much like us that we understand them inherently. Other times, though, they can be mysteries that require much work to decipher.

  When we contemplate all the different aspects of our children to be evaluated, maybe we are lucky we don’t have to select which children to test drive. And when we consider how some traits are more beneficial at one age than another (yes, that toddler who continually throws temper tantrums when she does not get her way, may very well grow up to be a highly persistent adult who makes important changes in this world), perhaps we are lucky that we don’t get to go through open houses to choose our children. And sometimes the struggle of raising children who are very different from us can enable us to grow not only as parents, but as people. So if our children don’t match what we already have in our homes, maybe it is good that we can’t just return them. Maybe these differences are really our gifts.

 For additional information on temperament and goodness of fit, the following books are recommended:

        Pick Up Your Socks by Elizabeth Crary

        Kids, Parents and Power Struggles by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

        Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

        The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobais

        The Difficult Child by Stanley Turecki

By Deb Cohen, Certified Parenting Educator
January 2002
Volume 4/ Issue 4

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586


Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.
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