RAISING A CHILD WHO IS YOUR COMPLETE OPPOSITE CAN BE STRESSFUL, BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE (As seen in the January issue of My Family Magazine).
Most expecting parents dream about the type of personality their child will have. Will they be like mom, a fun-loving extrovert, or more stubborn and short-tempered like dad? While we can plan their futures and think about their interests – ballet classes and piano lessons, a love for books, or afternoons spent on the cricket field – each baby develops into their own unique character with their own likes and dislikes, temperament and quirks. But how do you prepare yourself for the child who is so not you, who is your antithesis in every way? A child you struggle to understand, who is not the cookie-cutter version you had so wished for? Bernadett Ferreira-Martins, a psychologist at Meaningful Minds Psychologists in Joburg, says, ‘The first step to parenting your opposite is to be grateful for the child you have. Whichever way you look at it, a child is a blessing. You are the adult, it’s up to you to manage your fantasies and ideals in order to allow yourself to get to know your child’s own, unique personality.’
EMBRACE THEIR UNIQUENESS
But if you were the A grade student, how do you cope with a child who seems interested in doing the absolute minimum when it comes to schoolwork? If you’re introverted, how do you handle a child who thrives in the spotlight? ‘There are things that parents can do to cope better with a child who is their opposite,’ says Bernadett. These coping strategies can help you move forward and past personality blocks that are preventing you from experiencing your child’s individuality. ‘Firstly, focus on the positives – every child has positive traits. Acknowledge them and be grateful of them,’ suggests Bernadett.
Discovering who your child is and watching them grow into their future selves is one of the biggest joys about parenting. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to mould them into who you believe they should be. Take time to nurture their strengths, and accept who they are as an individual. As they grow, they look to you as their parent for guidance. They’ll try to please you in every way they can, but if this goes against their true self, or if they feel they’re disappointing you by not living up to your ideals and standards, it poses a risk.
‘In all instances, parenting should be approached with unconditional love. Love will facilitate the necessary coping skills to accept, learn and grow with your child. In doing this, you learn about your child, what they like and dislike, and how they see and fit into the world. This will also help you to understand your child and guide them to live to their full potential,’ says Bernadett.
Doing otherwise will only promote feelings of inadequacy and failure, leading to anger, resentment and rebellious behaviour. ‘The most important thing is to be supportive – you may not be the sporty type, but if your child is sporty, take them to their practice sessions, attend the matches, support and praise them. Your child will feel appreciated, valued and supported in their passion.’
AVOID THE BLOWOUTS
Often conflicting personality types living together can lead to explosive encounters, especially when children head into their teens. ‘While difficult to do in heated moments, keeping calm in situations where your personalities are likely to clash will help you to understand and respect your child. By doing this, you’re setting an example of how your child should treat you and other people in similar situations,’ Bernadett explains. Here are her tips on how to keep both
parent and child calm:
Model: Model traits you’d like your child to have. Let your child know the importance of manners, honesty and being considerate of others by modelling such behaviours. If you’re considerate of your child’s feelings, your child will most likely be considerate of you as their parent.
Listen: It’s up to you as the adult to take a deep breath, calm down and listen to your child. Listening will in many instances avoid meltdowns and tantrums; you’re giving your child attention and he doesn’t need to scream or cry to get it. Get down to their level, make eye contact and be present. Listening also enables you as the parent to understand your child’s point of view, and this knowledge in itself can help you realise the matter at hand is not as bad as it seems. Listening will make your child feel valued and worthy, eliminating undesired behaviour to seek your attention or approval.
Spend time: Spending valuable time with your child will help you to learn about them, what they like, and what their strengths are. It’ll also allow your child to get to know you and help you connect. In moments of stress, remind yourself about their strengths – and don’t forget to tell them, and yourself.
IT STARTS WITH YOU
When it comes to parenting, we’re often so focused on our kids we forget about ourselves. But teaching children to look after themselves is an important life lesson. ‘Learn to forgive yourself, you don’t have to be a perfect parent,’ says Bernadett. ‘Sometimes internal frustration leads you to overreact. Forgive yourself if you have overreacted when your child didn’t meet your expectations. In a world where perfect families are constantly portrayed on social media, it’s hard to acknowledge you may not be the perfect parent to your unique child.’
Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Overwhelmed? Bernadett says it’s ok to ask your partner or another family member to help you out. Your child may share a similar interest with them, and spending time together will enrich their relationship and put less strain on yours. ‘Most importantly, take time for self-care,’ she says. ‘Take time out to look after yourself. Take time to do the things you love and to spend it with your family or friends, those who are supportive and uplifting. This will help you to be at your best when you spend time with your children.’
DON’T BUY INTO PARENTING TRAPS
We can’t be perfect parents all the time – we’re often tired, busy, and overloaded, leading to loss of valuable time and connectedness with our children. ‘Falling into “parenting traps” is often spontaneous and might seem the easiest route to take,’ says Bernadett. Avoid these pitfalls where possible, the result will help to strengthen your relationship with your child.
Criticising your child will hinder their healthy uniqueness, making them feel that if they don’t meet your expectations, they aren’t good enough. This leads to unhappy, insecure children who grow up to become anxious adults.
SPOILED FOR CHOICE
Parents who often feel overwhelmed by their child or who find that their personalities clash may allow their child to make inappropriate choices, so that they aren’t burdened by the responsibility for their child’s defiant behaviour. You are the parent and it’s your responsibility to make certain choices for your child and to offer them routine, security, structure and guidance.
GIVING IN TO DEMANDS
Parents who don’t understand their child and don’t give much of their time or energy because of this, might overcompensate by giving them everything they want, in the hope that the child will be happier or more loving of that parent. But what happens is that your child will gain a sense of entitlement. Remember: gifts don’t buy happiness or connection between parent and child.