Have there ever been times when you have looked at your child and just felt so different from them? Asking why you are so unique from your child?
Writer and Psychiatrist, Andrew Solomon, has recognised the commonality of these feelings, amongst parents and families, in his book ‘Far From the Tree’ and discusses how negotiating difference within families is a common theme.
While diversity and uniqueness is common in the wold we live in, feeling very different to our own children can be a challenge to embrace and can cause friction in families. Common challenges include negotiating routines and family structures, finding things all family members enjoy doing together and questioning your parenting abilities and capabilities.
Often parents stress that it is not the love for their child that is lacking, but the ability to accept their child and enjoy their uniqueness that poses the challenge.
Acceptance in parenting can be conceptualised as being able to see and acknowledge the uniqueness in your child, without pressing for this to change, as Andrew Solomon states, it is “finding the light in your child and seeing it there” (Solomon, 2014). This does not mean that we do not strive to shape our children’s behaviour, educational outcomes, sporting ability, etc., but rather, we accept and validate with warmth their unique personality, we love them for being them.
Studies consistently tell us that children who feel accepted by their parents have a better, more secure relationship with their parents, a heightened sense of family connectedness, higher self-esteem and fewer psychosocial challenges, such as anxiety and depression (Ansari & Qureshi, 2013; Dwairy, 2010). The heartening news is that acceptance is something that can be learnt and developed over time.
Assess your own expectations
One of the biggest blocks to being able to accept your child is holding onto unrealistic
expectations of your child and yourself. Some common expectations include “my child should be academic”, “to be successful my child must focus and work hard”, “it is not normal to be so fussy”. Statements that include “should”, “must”, “meant”, “not normal”, will invoke stress, anxiety and often anger, and typically do not reflect the true reality of the situation. Most parents can agree that having a happy child that achieves within their capabilities, academically, socially, physically and emotionally, is their hope and dream.
Just because your child is not like you, does not mean that they are not valuable and certainly does not mean that you have failed in your role as a parent in any way. Replace these statements with more helpful and realistic statements, like “my child may not be academic, but they have other skills”, “being successful is finding a happy balance”, “most children can be fussy”, “all people are unique and so is my child” and “I am a normal parent experiencing common thoughts among parents”. Most parents do not have mini-clones of themselves and most experience the challenges of raising unique children at some stage.
Become a mindful parent
Mindful parenting focuses on developing awareness around interactions with your child
through focusing your attention on your child’s needs in a particular moment whilst
regulating your emotions (Duncan, Coatsworth, D & Greenberg, M., 2009). Being in tune with your child is likely to help your child feel accepted and valued. While mindful parenting sounds difficult to achieve, there are some steps you can take to help develop your skills in this area:
- Listen with your full attention: focus on what your child is communicating to you, what words are they using? What facial expressions? Active listening helps parents understand the needs and meaning behind the behaviour.
- Communicate: reflect back to the child what you hear them saying. Try and not make judgements here, just reflect what you can see and hear. This can help your child build awareness of their own behaviours and acknowledge you are listening to and hearing them.
- Help your child label their emotions: it is important for children to be aware of the
emotions they are feeling as it can really help them make conscious choices about how to respond to them.
- Demonstrate self-regulation and compassion: pause before reacting and teach your child to do the same. Showing empathetic concern towards your child shows them that you love them despite the situation and demonstrates your acceptance despite the behaviour.
What to do with your unique child?
Feeling accepted comes from feeling validated as a person. Validating your child and acknowleging their differneces can imporve your relationship with your child.
Here are some actionable tips:
- Create a photo wall that depicts all the important memories you have made together. You can ask your child to create it with you and write captions about your time together.
- Praise your child when you get the opportunity to. Praise there behaviour and explain why.
Here are a few more tips we’ve expanded on.
To sum up
Your child may be different to you but that is what makes them unique. Embrace their uniquness and learn to enjoy there differences.
Just because your child is not like you, certainly does not mean that you have failed in your role as a parent in any way. Learn to love the unique relationship you share with your child.
At Japari, we understand it can be difficult to navigate these relationships the right way. Our specialised physcologists and multi-discplinary team is focused on helping parents and children navigate these difficult experiences.
For more information, please get in touch with us.