It’s not an easy proposition. An essential parenting duty is to teach, and to facilitate growth. That involves change. But sometimes, we might find ourselves trying to mold instead, and we might also find our kids fighting back.
What’s the difference between molding and teaching? And what does it mean to truly accept your child? These are more than just abstract philosophical questions. The answers have significant implications for how we parent, and therefore, the relationship we have with our kids.
With little babies, we can simply love and nurture. Sure, they’re learning, but it’s osmotic rather than deliberate. As children become toddlers, teaching becomes overt. And that’s where we can find ourselves trying to mold.
Molding, as I define it, is trying to take your child’s natural temperament and turn it into something you find more desirable. For example, you have a shy child; you want her to be more outgoing. So you start trying to mold her.
As a parent, you have a responsibility to try to facilitate pro-social behaviors. That means you want to help your child be in social situations comfortably. That’s different, though, from trying to push certain interactions that your child is communicating quite clearly that she doesn’t want to engage in.
As I said, this is only one example. If you look for them in your own life, you might be able to find others. What I’m getting at is that you can encourage behaviors, but you shouldn’t fight temperament (the innate tendencies of a child, his/her distinct and unique style of relating to the world.)
Fighting temperament can make a child feel something is wrong with his preferences. He’ll feel that he shouldn’t be as he naturally is, and that’s a painful message to assimilate at a young age.
Instead, we can learn the contours of our child’s world. Find out what she likes, and why. Get down on the floor so you can be at the child’s eye level and follow her cues. This type of understanding is the first key to true acceptance. It also fosters a strong emotional bond.
Accepting that our child is different than we might have hoped is a real challenge. I know, because I’m a highly verbal person with a speech-delayed daughter. And I’ve found that she’s been making the greatest progress when I follow her lead, rather than manically quizzing her (“What does a cow say? Moooo!”). Making the learning process fun rather than infusing it with my own stress about whether she catches up has freed us both.
It’s meant that I can appreciate all her other qualities. She has the most amazing non-verbal sense of humor. She is naturally upbeat and curious. She’s a brilliant alternative communicator–able to get her needs across without words, which shows a certain tenacious intelligence. She wants to crawl on my lap and read books, and someday, she’ll be able to say the words. I can wait, patiently, for that day.
Examining why we want our child to be something so badly is important, too. Are we thinking that other parents will look at us more favorably? Or is it that we’re judging ourselves, thinking we must be doing something wrong? Figuring out why we’re trying hard to change our children will help us accept not only them, but ourselves.
Mother and daughter image available from Shutterstock.