A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Review: The Difficult Child Part 2

I'm of the firmest opinion that every first time mother (or father) should attend a playgroup if for no other reason than to witness first hand the amusing illogicality that is children playtime. It brings a small measure of comfort that your child with all his/her proclivities for tantrums or toy-snatching is actually quite normal. I find that it helps me to deal with some of the embarrassment when you realise that other people's children are just as bad (or worse) than your own.
Still, there are children who have certain quirks that don't seem to be present in others but Turecki in The Difficult Child is quick to remind us that they are no less normal. What is required of us parents is a little understanding and patience.
Parents are often guilt-ridden about how ill-equipped they are and sometimes it seems easier to think that there are cosmic forces at work conspiring to make your job all the more difficult. Quite sensibly, Turecki observes early on in the book that

Difficult children are normal. They are not emotionally disturbed, mentally ill, or brain damaged... "Difficult" is very different from "abnormal". In today's climate, with ever increasing numbers of children being "diagnosed", this is a very important distinction for parents to keep in mind.

Difficult children are like this because of their innate makeup. And that makeup is their inborn temperament. They are not like this because of something you as parents have done to them. It's not your fault. And it's not the child's fault, either. He didn't ask to be born difficult.

Difficult children are hard to raise. Of course you know this already. But if you think of it as a basic fact of existence, it will help you cope better. This is the way your child is, but by understanding him better and learning about his temperament you will be able to manage him successfully. He will then be a great deal easier to raise.

Difficult children are not all the same. The picture differs depending on which areas of temperament come into play. Difficult children also range from the basically easy child with some difficult features to the extreme of the very difficult, perhaps even impossible child.

Difficult children make their parents feel angry, inadequate, or guilty. And these parental feelings can lead to one of the biggest problems with difficult children, a loss of parental authority. Parents feel their child no longer "listens" to them, that she is the one in control. Inconsistent and excessive punishment follow. "Nothing works" is the most common statement parents make about their efforts to discipline the child.

Difficult children children can create marital strain, family discord, problems with siblings, and end up with emotional problems of their own. OR
Difficult children can become positive, enthusiastic, perhaps even especially creative individuals if they are well managed when young. (Turecki, pp. 8-9)

Turecki goes on to discuss temperament and by temperament, he means "the traits a child is born with." He goes on to say that "this style of behaviour is innate and is not produced by the environment."
Thinking in terms of temperament is helpful because we all well aware that a children brought up in a similar environment can turn out differently. Turecki, however, isn't arguing for kind of biological determinism either because he believes that the family/parent/environment can also affect temperament and interact with it.

Based on the research of Thomas, Chess and Birch of NYU in something called the New York Longitudinal Study, the project followed the lives of 133 people from 1956 onwards during their infancy to adulthood. Turecki also notes that a child's temperament becomes fairly evident at 18 months and much more clearly at three years. By the middle childhood, individual temperament becomes well-established and stable.

The NY Longitudinal Study came up with nine temperamental characteristics but Turecki has made some modifications to the original definitions and added another to the list.

Activity Level : How active or restless is the child generally, from an early age?

Self-Control : Can the child control himself? How impulsive is she?

Concentration: How easily is the child distracted? Can he play attention?

Intensity: How loud is the child, whether happy or unhappy? How forceful is her personality? How dramatic is he?

Regularity: How predictable is the child in his patterns of sleep, appetite and bowel habits?

Persistence: Once involved with something, does the child stay with it for a long time (positive persistence)? How relentless or stubborn is he when he wants something (negative persistence)?

Sensory Threshold: How does the child react to sensory stimuli: noise, bright lights, colors, smells, pain, warm weather, tastes, the texture and feel of clothes? Is she easily bothered? Is he easily overstimulated?

Initial Response: What is the child's initial response to newness -- new places, peoples, foods, clothes? Does he go forward or hold back -- approach or withdraw?

Adaptability: How does the child deal with transition and change?

Predominant Mood: What is the child's basic disposition? Is it more sunny or more serious?  (Turecki, pp.9-10)

Turecki also notes that the issue of temperament is gaining greater acceptance with pediatricians and teachers in recent days. Parents could use this as a jumping off point for discussions about their children.

As I look at my own children, I'm becoming more and more convinced that temperament is the underlying key to tying in strategies for dealing with children on the entire "easy to difficult "spectrum. If we want to get out of the vicious cycle of doing things that are convenient or that don't work, it seems instructive to sit down and work out their personalities/quirks and deal with them accordingly and proactively. It's akin to reading Sun Tzu's The Art of War where you're constantly being reminded that knowledge of the ("enemy") opposition is important in order to win battles and the overall war. Some might be offended by my suggestion that parenting is analagous to a war or a battle but if we're honest with ourselves, sometimes (or more than sometimes), it is like a battle. Afterall don't we use expressions like "we have to pick our battles", "battle of wills", "uphill battle/fight" on a regular basis. Parenting can be very alienating but knowledge is power.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Lilian... I'll keep my eye out for this book now that I've read your review. Cath.


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