Adjust Your Parenting Style to Suit Your Child's Personality

Family Matters on 08.08.11
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Kids who have more control over their emotions and actions thrive when their parents use a light touch, while children with less self-control can benefit from less autonomy.

So say the results of a recent University of Washington study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, in which 214 children and their mothers were observed for 3 years.  The children in the study, whose average age was 9 at the start, were more stable if their moms' parenting style was a good match for their personalities.  If the parenting was not a good match, however, the children were twice as likely to suffer symptoms of anxiety and depression.

"We hear a lot about over-involved parents, like 'tiger moms' and 'helicopter parents," Liliana Lengua, co-author of the study, said in the news release. "It is parents' instinct to help and support their children in some way, but it's not always clear how to intervene in the best way. This research shows that parenting is a balance between stepping in and stepping out with guidance, support and structure based on cues from kids."

The implication of this study--that no one parenting model will work for all children--makes sense to me.  I already see it in my 2-year old twins.  Each one reacts differently in different situations.  And it's more complicated than just a matter of which one has more control of her emotions.  They react very differently to aspects of the daily routine--getting dressed, taking naps, getting in their car seats, brushing teeth, and so on--that any parent of toddlers knows can be emotionally fraught.  So we have to adjust our strategy for getting through these tasks for either kid.

What's worrisome for me about the idea that different kids need different parenting approaches is not just the effort of constantly toggling between siblings, but the complaints from the kids of: "You're not being fair!"  It's probably inevitable anyway, as anyone with siblings can attest to, but if you consciously have different expectations, rules, and consequences for either kid, it would be hard to argue against that charge. 


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