Lauri Vallenga remembers how distant she felt from her daughter Kalee the first time her daughter’s individual personality shone through. “We’d gone to a farm with her nursery school and Kalee insisted on wearing a ‘cow hat’ from a Halloween costume. I asked her if she was worried that the other kids would laugh at her. She told me, ‘It’s a funny hat. I hope they laugh. Then they would be happy.’ Lauri was taken aback. “I’m super conscious of how people perceive me. I had no idea whose kid she was!”
Watching our child’s personality develop is at once confusing and joyful. We want them to be their own person, but also sometimes expect them to be little clones and we have difficulty dealing with opposing temperaments. An outgoing mom, for instance, might have great difficulty learning how to encourage an introverted child to make friends. Parenting expert and author, Ann Douglas, says, “Those differences are what make parenting such an adventure: you combine two parts DNA, wait nine-and half-months and see what the mixture produces. There’s no guarantee that your biological or environmental influence is going to convince your child to love hockey or karate or Brownies (or whatever else it was that you were wild about when you were a kid). So, focus on loving the one you’re with as opposed to longing for a mini-you.”
How can parents ensure their children’s personalities become their own, but also balance the need to not have a child in a pink tutu in the middle of winter? Douglas says, “Parenting is about teaching kids how to make good choices. Depending on the situation and the child’s age, we sometimes need to reign in the child’s choices a little – or tack on a few additional conditions (for example, say, ‘You can wear your pink tutu if you wear track pants and a snowsuit with it.) What we don’t want to do is give a three-year-old the message that she’s got carte blanche when it comes to clothing choices. What if she decides to wear a bathing suit to her aunt’s wedding or her grandfather’s funeral? Are you still going to be okay with that? Give her choices you can live with and then let the child make the final choice. And remember, deciding not to choose an outfit is also making a choice: she’s decided to let you decide for her today.”
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SUPPORTING THEIR DIFFERENCES
Although young children are not responsible for large decisions, try allowing your child to make choices about simple things. You might offer your child a choice between two items of clothing to wear that day, or which flavour of juice they would like that morning. You might be surprised to find these choices are often reasonable and completely different from what you would have served.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
It’s interesting to encourage a pre-schooler to add their opinion on topics the family is discussing. This might take you out of your comfort zone to ask your four-year-old what type of vacation the family should take this year. Involving your child cannot only be fun, it can also lead to broadening your own ideas.
OBSERVE AND LEARN
At the playground, sit back and watch how your child interacts with others. Is he the gentleman who allows others to take turns? Does he organize the other children into activities?
As parents, we have the overwhelming desire to make the decisions for our children so that their lives are easy and carefree, but also allowing them to express themselves is not only vital to their development, but provides us with one of the greatest joys of parenthood: the discovery of who our child truly will become.
Vallenga is still constantly amazed by her daughter’s likes and dislikes. “I was the type of girl who wanted to wear frilly dresses and shiny shoes; Kalee hates dresses and only wants to be comfortable. Until I gave up forcing my taste on her we fought a lot in the mornings. Now she happily dresses herself.” Vallenga adds with a smile, “We say she’s got her own sense of style.”