Be a Student of Your Child
If you’ve had more than one child you know that no two children are exactly alike. If you’ve ever observed families with more than one child you’ve probably at some point been amazed by the fact that children from the same gene pool, raised by the same parents, in the same neighborhood, eating the same diet, going to the same school and church, can be totally different.
Each child is designed with a combination of gifts, talents, attitudes, beliefs, needs and wants that are different from anyone else. That is part of what makes parenting so exciting, and at times frustrating. And while we acknowledge that every person is unique, as parents most of us find it much easier to value the aspects of our children that are similar to us. I’ve heard parents remark, “Tommy is just like me but I’m not sure where Jill came from. She is so different from the rest of us.”
In the busyness of being parents it’s so easy for us to forget that our children aren’t adults. They’re “only” children. And if we have more than one child in the house it’s easy for us to forget that each child is unique. I’ve talked with many parents who have, without ever intending to, lumped all of their kids into the “children” category and forgotten that not only is each child unique but also that there are different developmental tasks each child faces at a different age.
I believe that one of the most important aspects of parenting is knowing your child. Your effectiveness as a parent will be in direct proportion to the extent that your child believes that you know them, understand them and accept them. Notice I didn’t say you agree with them, but that you understand and accept them.
In Proverbs 22:6 we read, “Train up a child in the way he should go and in keeping with his individual gift or bent, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” For years many well-meaning parents interpreted that to mean that they should decide what kind of person their child “should” become and then work as hard as possible to cram them into that mold. This is known as the cookie-cutter approach to parenting.
An in-depth study of the words used in that passage suggests that, rather than using the cookie-cutter approach, God is instructing parents to take the time to discover the God-given uniqueness of each child. God isn’t telling us to raise our children to become what we think they should become. He is saying, “If you want to raise healthy children, observe your child, be sensitive and alert so as to discover the best way for the child, and adapt your training accordingly.
After many years of working with families I discovered that while few parents will dare to fight the law of gravity, many attempt to fight the law of differences. Even when the differences are recognized they are rarely appreciated or understood. Think about it. When was the last time you complimented your child on some aspect of their personality, some opinion, or some way of doing something that is different from the way you would have done it? When was the last time you let them know you appreciated these differences? Before you go to sleep tonight let me encourage you to give at least one compliment to each of your children on one of their “differences.”
Dr. Gary Oliver has over 30 years experience in individual, premarital, marital and family counseling and for the past 20 years he has had an extensive nationwide teaching ministry.