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Let Them Be Themselves

Your child will almost certainly be similar to you in many ways. After all, she is made up of 50 percent you. She may well have your natural love of music, your ability to spell, your gregarious nature, and your inclination to sulk when you don't get your own way.

Then again, she may not.

Most good and loving parents find it fairly easy to cope with their child's strengths, whether or not they share them. We often hugely admire our children for being more assertive, or better at math, than we ever were.

However, coping with other character traits we can't identify with can be quite hard, whether they're negative or simply different from ourselves. There's no real empathy, however much we wish there were. If you're prone to emotional outbursts, coping with a child who sulks can be hard—and vice versa.

Suppose your attitude to a challenge is to set your jaw and meet it head on. But your child would much rather crumble in tears. If he can't face having a filling at the dentist, or feels completely overwhelmed by tonight's homework, he'll just want to curl up in a heap and sob. It can be infuriating, not the least because you have no idea why anyone would want to react that way. Well, your child probably doesn't want to react that way either—it's just the only way he knows.

It's crucial that we allow our children to do things their own way. If your child crumbles in the face of a tough challenge, that's okay. It doesn't make her a bad person. You can't expect her to respond otherwise just because you do.

I might add, in this example, that people who crumble at challenges do have an advantage over the rest of us, even if it doesn't seem so. They are often less driven, but that can make them more easily satisfied. As they go through life, they will be able to give up on tough challenges quite happily, while the rest of us make ourselves miserable striving for something we may never achieve. So, a trait that may appear negative can be more positive than we realize.

As parents, we often get this wrong simply through not thinking about it. If you—and maybe your partner, too—have always met challenges head on, and perhaps so have your other children, it's easy to expect it of this child, too, without realizing that you're asking too much.

And why does this matter? Because if you expect your children to do something they can't, you'll undermine their confidence—which, as you saw in the last chapter, can be very damaging in the long term. If you truly believe that your child would be happier if she learned to deal with challenges better, you can teach her in a positive way, rather than setting expectations she can't meet, at least not yet. We'll look at how to do that in a bit.

Back to Ten Tools for Parenting Happy, Healthy Children

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From Nobody Told Me That! 10 Tools for Parenting Healthy, Happy Children Copyright © 2009, FT Press. Used by permission of FT Press, and Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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