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can be heard discussing Positive Psychology here.


Accepting Your Child’s Uniqueness

July 2014

Did you know that if you identify your child’s unique strengths and vulnerabilities, as well as his or her special way of dealing with the world, you will be better able to help him or her overcome any challenges he or she might have in paying attention, regulating his or her mood, learning to talk, controlling his or her impulses, or in mastering reading or math?  You will also be able to strengthen his/her capacity for trust, intimacy, resilience, perseverance, and coping.  The key to all these good things is being willing to recognize and accept the uniqueness of your child.

We have traditionally imposed upon children the idea that they must fit the expectations of parents and society at large.  To some degree, this is absolutely correct.  The expectations we have for children to become socialized, to learn to curb their aggression, and to be empathetic and kind to others are very important.  On the other hand, expecting a child to live up to your expectations is a two-way street.  The degree to which you can tailor experiences to your child’s unique qualities increases the likelihood of him or her growing up physically, intellectually, and emotionally healthy and thereby able to be a productive member of society.

Nurturing your child by helping her to regulate her activities, giving her opportunities to engage in pretend play, and presenting gentle but firm and consistent limits leads to positive development.  By contrast, punitive limits, hostility or avoidance, neglect, and inconsistency often lead to increased anti-social behaviors.  Beyond these basic guidelines which are useful to follow in order to help any child develop, how can you support the uniqueness of your child?

First, you can take time to learn some of the many ways professionals use to describe the uniqueness of children.  For example, the influential pediatrician, Dr. Stanley Greenspan, has described five common types of children:  the active, aggressive child, the highly sensitive child, the inner-focused or self-absorbed child, the strong willed child, and the child who has difficulties with attention.  Each type of child is very different in his degree of mastery of various capacities such as the ability to focus and attend, the ability to be intimate and related to others, the ability to be purposeful and intentional, the capacity to solve complex problems, the skill in using ideas creatively, and his ability to think logically and abstractly.  Understanding these differing capacities will make it possible for you, along with the help of others, to construct parenting and educational styles based on these individual differences.

Second, when your child is ready for school, you can work with his teachers to review his development, to observe how he functions, and to describe his or her unique profile.  The physical environment, the curriculum, and the type of relationships that will foster learning can then be adapted to his profile.  As a result, your child’s cognitive and social skills will be given the best chance to develop in a positive manner and disorders that could possibly develop can be prevented.

It is important to note that a respect for individual differences does not undermine individual responsibility.  Children should not be allowed to escape into being passive and helpless, or rebellious and rude.  Instead their individual responsibility can be challenged and supported through extra help and appropriate structure. 

When you become familiar with the concept of individual differences in children, you will be better prepared for the challenges you face with your unique child.  By looking for important individual differences and then adapting ways to best help your child cope and thrive, you can go a long way toward preventing maladaptive behaviors. You will also be in a better position to help your child master positive, adaptive ways of interacting and learning.   And you will enrich your own experience as a parent.


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