It’s been said that you can’t shove a square peg into a round hole. But sometimes we attempt it as parents. We operate from a narrow view of the world based upon our own experiences, our own preferences, and our own strengths and we assume that our kids do—or at least should—share them.
But our children are individuals with their own natural interests and aversions. You can make yourself crazy trying to change them completely or you can learn to work with their strengths to help them develop the character and values they need.
1. It’s about the principle, not the process. So you want your kid to be a team player? Know how to consider others and work together toward a goal? It’s wonderful that you learn all of these things as a part of your high school lacrosse team, but that’s not the only way to learn those principles. For your kid, it could be in the youth symphony, the church praise band, or in a sport you never played and know nothing about. Look at your child’s strengths and interests, the value or character trait you think they need to develop, and find a natural path toward that for them.
2. Relax with the timeline. We often say around here that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. (See 5 Ways to Develop a Marathon Mindset in Parenting for more.) If you think that your child is supposed to mature and acquire skills on the same timeline as all of their siblings and friends, you’ll go crazy comparing. Sure, those other kids are a benchmark to check from time to time, but your child may cross those bridges sooner or later than others. Stay tuned in to where they are and how you can best shepherd them to the next goal.
3. Listen. Really listen. Yes, you’re the parent. Yes, you are wiser and have more life experience. But by letting your kid talk—even if it’s to complain about your rules or expectations—and truly listening, you can glean important clues about who they are and what makes them tick. It will help you fine-tune your approach to enforcing the principle or value at stake in a way they can grasp.
4. Remember that a little discomfort is okay. While it makes a lot of sense to do the bulk of your skill-building within your child’s natural strengths and interests, it is okay for them to have to walk outside of their comfort zones from time to time. It helps them to learn to cope with a little anxiety and insecurity, and may just help them discover something they didn’t think they liked. So don’t let them use the “that’s just not me” card to avoid all new or challenging experiences.