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You and your Child : Being a Child (part 1) - Child-centered parenting, Temperament and personality

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Parenting trends and expert opinions come and go as society changes, and every generation of parents wants to do things “better.” In reality, however, children’s needs and wants remain unchanged. The challenge is to listen to the combined wisdom of the “experts” and decide what is right for your child.

“Avoid making unfair comparisons between children; each is unique and has their own needs.”

“Appropriate behavior and healthy emotional development in toddlers is the result of sensitive, loving, and responsive parenting, regardless of their temperament, and how like or unlike you they seem to be.”

Most parents and child-care professionals now support the idea of child-centered parenting. This means looking closely at your child’s behavior and attempting literally to see the world from her perspective. For example, kneel down and look at the room from your child’s point of view and ask yourself, “How does the world look at her level?” Consider whether or not it is a comfortable, safe, and exciting view. Your new perspective will help you to understand her needs and behavior.

The child-centered approach doesn’t mean that your toddler is the most central person in your family unit and that you should give her everything she wants, on demand. It means helping her to understand what she is experiencing and gradually to develop frustration tolerance. This approach will encourage your child to learn: with your guidance and through her own experience. This approach is at the heart of developing self-esteem.

Her view of the world

Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes and see the world from her viewpoint. This will help you to understand her behavior and why she sometimes gets frustrated.

Getting to know her

Don’t always assume your child is being deliberately awkward—she may simply act in a certain way because her temperament is different than yours.

Child-centered parenting

At the heart of child-centered parenting there are four important principles. It should:

  • Highlight the rights of children alongside the rights of parents, but should rebuff the belief that children are the property of their parents.

  • Be positive and reinforcing as much as possible, rather than using threats and punishment.

  • Focus on the needs and best interests of children and recognize the significance of the parents’ role.

  • Encourage a view of the parenting role as positive, enjoyable, and fulfilling while acknowledging that it can be challenging and difficult.

Child-centered parenting recognizes the importance of boundaries and guidelines in curbing behavior problems. Frustration-tolerance is an important skill for children to learn so they can develop self-control and accept social boundaries.

Temperament and personality

"“I sometimes wonder whether our son was swapped at birth with another child! He is so full of energy and bounce, and quite unlike his brother and sister at the same age.”" There are times when every parent wonders, “How can I have produced a child whose character seems so different than my own?” A conservative and calm couple may be surprised by having a creative live wire of a child; an extroverted couple may find their child is born shy and cautious. How dull it would be if we were all the same! Our essential nature is known as our temperament. It is a part of what becomes our personality, and it is uniquely our own. Temperament is a behavioral style that influences the way we think and respond, and is one of the reasons that two siblings with essentially the same upbringing may respond differently to the same parenting approach.

Linked to our genes, our basic temperament is largely mapped out before birth, but may be modified by later life experiences. It is possible to see individual differences in babies while still in the womb in terms of how they respond to temperature change, noise, stimuli, and in their level of activity.

If temperament is what we are born with, you may wonder what difference parenting makes. How can the style of upbringing influence personality? Whereas initial temperament remains constant, the development of a child’s personality is much more complex.

Personality is influenced by:

Personality develops over many years, into our twenties and beyond, as we learn and respond initially to our parents and home environment, and later to broader social and life experiences. Your child’s personality will also be influenced by how others—especially you—respond to the things she says and does.

For example, a shy child who has an anxious temperament may withdraw from new experiences. As she grows, however, she will learn to adapt and acquire a level of tolerance, if her parents gently and repeatedly introduce her to new situations. While never likely to become an extrovert, as a growing child she will be better able to manage than if her parents were to interpret the anxiety as distress and constantly protect her from new experiences, which would instead reinforce the anxiety.

How parents react to, and label, their child’s behavior depends not so much on the behavior itself, as on their view of that behavior. For example, in a family that admires individuality, a boisterous youngster may be called independent or strong-willed or “just like me” with some admiration; whereas in a family that prefers a greater level of conformity, the child may be seen as “difficult” or stubborn. Similarly, a child may be described positively as calm or content in a family that does not enjoy disruption, or passive in one that is more extroverted.

How you view and respond to your child’s temperament depends on your expectations, demands, and perceptions of what your child should be like. A poor “fit” can lead to a period of tension and stress while you “get to know” your child’s nature and response. It is important for you to understand your own temperament, as well as your toddler’s, in order to respond to her in a positive way, regardless of expectations.

  • Our genes and temperament (hereditary factors).

  • Our learned responses to our upbringing and life in general.

  • How others respond to us (which affects our behavior).

  • Our broader physical and social environment.

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