Chapter OneDiscover Your Child's
It's too bad there isn't a beatitude for parents that says, "Blessed
is the flexible parent, for he or she will have the greatest opportunity
to communicate with his or her child." Every child is
unique. Each one is different. This is the way it should be. It is
the way God created us.
When children are born, they come with an inheritance. It
comes from the gene pool of each parent. It might not be seen at
first, but it gradually unfolds. If you have three children, it's as
though you picked up one from Target, one from Nordstrom
and one from JCPenney. They're all different, aren't they? Each
child thinks differently, acts differently and communicates differently.
Read how some parents describe their children:
"My daughter is a real space cadet. Sometimes I wonder
what she uses for a brain."
"My son has a big mouth. He's loud and goes on and
"I think my daughter is a hermit. I just can't understand
why she's so quiet."
"My son can get lost between his bedroom and the
kitchen, especially when I ask him to do something."
"My daughter talks first and thinks later."
"My kid is so picky. He'll ask me the time, and I'll say, 'Oh, around four o'clock.' Then he'll say, 'No, I want
the exact time.' What a pain."
"My daughter is so absentminded. She seems to be
thinking about too many things at the same time."
"My daughter is way too sensitive. She always gets her
"I wonder if my son has any feelings. He always has to
be right, even when it makes his friends dislike him.
But he doesn't seem to care."
"My son is only seven. But even now he has a place for
everything, and he isn't satisfied unless everything is in
its place before he goes to bed at night. Me? I let everything
lie where it falls. But does he ever get after me
"My teenage daughter is a procrastinator. She gets her
work done eventually, but her last minute antics disrupt
the whole family."
"I try to talk to my son, but he always changes the
subject in the middle of the conversation. I sometimes
wonder if his brain is stuck in neutral."
Did you notice some of the words used to describe the children-"space
cadet," "big mouth," "loud," "hermit," "lost," "talks
first and thinks later," "picky," "too sensitive," "procrastinator,"
"changes the subject"? Do these words sound negative or positive?
Are these traits you would want to change in your child, or
could you accept them? What if each trait or characteristic is the
way God uniquely created your child, and it's your task to understand
Unique Behaviors and Personalities
Children have quirks of behavior and personality that at times
irritate their parents. Yet in most cases the problem isn't that
children are bad, it's simply that their responses and thought
patterns are different from their parents'.
You get frustrated because you can't understand why your
child isn't more like you. Trying to change your child's personality
to match yours is as pointless and futile as trying to
change your child's physical features to make him or her look
like you. The key to reducing your frustration over your child's
quirks of behavior, and to communicate with him or her, is to
understand and accommodate your child's unique personality
Every child is predisposed toward certain personality characteristics.
These leanings reflect his or her genetic inheritance,
birth order and early environment. A child's personality traits
direct his or her preferences for responding to life and his or her
communication style-much like a child's handedness directs
his or her preference for completing manual tasks. For instance,
just because a child is right-handed, doesn't mean the child
never uses his or her left hand. The child may prefer his or her
right hand strongly, rarely using his or her left hand. Or the
child may be more ambidextrous and use his or her left hand for
several tasks. The more the child practices his or her handedness
preference, the more the child relies on it with confidence.
Similarly, the more a child responds in line with his or her personality
predisposition, the stronger that style becomes in the
In Psalm 139:14 (NIV), read King David's words: "I praise
you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works
are wonderful." Christians believe that every person is made in
the image of God and is of infinite worth and value. Every
person is unique. Yet most parents find it much easier to value
the aspects of their children that are similar to their own. 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."
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the
word "different"? Are the meanings you associate with "different"
primarily positive or negative? If I were to approach you on
the street and say, "You sure look different today," would you
think I was giving you a compliment and reply, "Well, thank you
very much," or would you think that I was being critical?
"Different" suggests a deviation from some kind of standard
or norm. It suggests that something is not quite the way
it usually is or the way it should be. Many people interpret "different"
to mean "unusual, inappropriate, inferior or wrong." If
I said, "You sure look like a deviate," you would know that I
was being negative and critical.
On the other hand, what do you think of when you hear
the word "unique" or "special"? Do you tend to have a more
positive response to those terms? Every person is different.
Yet often those differences are not understood or valued by
Replicated scientific research has shown that infants show
significant individual differences from birth. We know that
infants are born with unique temperamental characteristics,
behavior traits and ways of responding to external stimuli. Some
distinguishing characteristics include their ability levels, needs
and feelings. Because every infant has a unique way of interacting
with his or her environment, every parent must understand
and relate to the infant's uniqueness.
Children come with different personalities and different types of
intelligence. Are you aware of the eight kinds of intelligence, and
the fact that each child is born with a unique distribution of
each? Some of these intelligence types may surprise you:
1. Some children have strong emotional intelligence and
have a unique ability to establish and maintain
healthy relationships with others and themselves.
They're able to handle feelings and empathize.
2. Those who have strong academic intelligence do well in
school, for they can sit, listen, learn, absorb and comprehend.
Yet it doesn't mean they can apply all this
knowledge or use it constructively in life.
3. There is physical intelligence. These children do well at
sports, as well as maintain their bodies in a positive
4. Some children are gifted with creative intelligence and
have a more developed imagination. When the imagination
is stimulated, it grows. They often think differently, are more original and create in their own
5. Other children have artistic intelligence and are interested
in drawing, writing, acting, singing, playing an
instrument and so on.
6. Commonsense intelligence reflects children who want
the practical rather than the intellectual. They want
what is relevant and useful. They want to apply what
7. Intuitive intelligence is seen in children who just know
things. Information simply comes to them rather
than being taught or told. They have a sixth sense and
can understand information without having to study
all the details.
8. Some children have gifted intelligence. They are good at
certain types of intelligence, but not as good at others.
It seems that all their eggs end up in one basket.
They may need to develop their special skills, as well
as get help for the other kinds of intelligence.
In which of these types of intelligence is your child gifted?
Remember that two children who are gifted in the same area of
intelligence will reflect it differently because of variables such as
personality and environment. For example, what if one child is
an extrovert and the other child is an introvert?
Most important, if a child focuses only on his or her
strengths, the child misses out on other parts of life, which creates
imbalance. Our task as parents is not to fall into the trap of
encouraging our children's strength alone but to encourage
other areas as well.
Children are different in other ways such as speed of learning.
For example, it seems that some children possess their type of
intelligence from birth. They are born with their one or two
areas of giftedness already developed. Other children may be
gradual learners, while some children are late bloomers.
Some people call children who fall into one of these three
kinds of learning runners, walkers and jumpers:
1. A runner is given a new task and understands
it immediately. This child learns quickly, but to
stay interested and involved, he or she needs to be
2. A walker takes longer to learn but responds well to
instruction. This child seems to learn a little, gets
better and then lets you know he or she is learning.
Encouragement does wonders for a walker.
3. A jumper is usually a challenge for parents. This child
takes a long time to learn, and you may wonder if he
or she is ever going to get it. Yes, this child takes
instruction, but he or she doesn't seem to show any
signs of learning. You wonder if your jumper is listening.
You teach the child again and again, but he or
she doesn't seem to get it. Again and again you go
over his or her homework, how to feed the dog or
how to greet people, but the child keeps forgetting.
You wonder, Where is my child's head right now? You
wonder if anything is getting through, but then one
day it clicks. You had no idea. Unfortunately, what
hinders a jumper from learning is the parent or
teacher who gives up on the child.
Some children are runners in one area and jumpers in
another area. And in the area where the child is a jumper, he or
she may be uncooperative and resistant, but that doesn't mean
the child is low in this area of intelligence. It could be the area in
which the child has his or her greatest strength. In addition, just
because the child is a runner in one area, doesn't mean he or she
will excel in that area. The easiest path does not always correlate
with the area of greatest strength.
If your first child is a runner and your second child is a
jumper, your challenge is not to compare the two children but
to discover each child's uniqueness, encourage each child's
growth and reinforce that growth. Your communication with
each child will need to be adapted. Remember that it is easy to
be frustrated with a jumper and resort to critical and negative
Children's Communication Needs
One of the most important aspects of communicating is knowing
your child or teen. Your effectiveness in communicating will be
in direct proportion to the extent that you know your child.
Let's consider some children who are different or unique
in contrast to one another. Remember, you will need to talk differently
to each child in order to connect. Within each type
described, all children will differ.
Karen-the Outgoing, Bubbly Child
Even at 10 years of age, Karen is an outgoing, bubbly child. She
knows a lot of children at school and in her neighborhood, and
she wouldn't think of doing something without getting some
of her friends involved. Her parents often say, "Why don't you
just sit home and play by yourself for a while?" But being alone
doesn't sound like much fun to Karen. Whenever her parents
require her to be quiet and reflective and to work by herself,
Karen tends to procrastinate. She gets her stimulation from
being involved with people and doing things.
Karen is like a solar panel. When she has to be alone, she
feels like she is under a heavy cloud cover. A solar panel needs to
be in the sun to get its energy; therefore, Karen needs to be
around people. Sometimes she gets so recharged that it's hard
for her to slow down.
People usually know what Karen is thinking because she
often talks to herself out loud. Her parents frequently say,
"Karen, who are you talking to? Why don't you be quiet for a
change? Give our ears a rest!" Even at school she is one of the
first children to raise her hand when the teacher asks a question.
She may not know the answer at first, but in the process of talking
about it, the answer often comes to her mind.
There's something else about Karen: She seems to be secure
and self-confident. She's gregarious and outgoing, but she won't
believe she's done a good job unless she hears it from someone
else. She has a high need for compliments and affirmation (that's
important to remember). Karen may ask you again and again
what you think of a task she's done if she doesn't hear it from
you. Karen wants you to notice and comment.
Does Karen sound like anyone you know? Perhaps you're like
this, or you may be the exact opposite. Let's review the characteristics
of Karen and learn the best ways to communicate with her:
Karen tends to talk first and think later. She doesn't
know what to say until she hears herself saying it. She
needs the freedom to formulate her thoughts out loud, although there will be times when you think, Can't she
ever be quiet?
Karen tends to speak louder and faster; she is more
animated. She brainstorms out loud for the whole
world to hear whether others are listening or not.
Remember, her ideas are just her brainstorming. It
doesn't mean this is what she is going to do. Don't ever
react. Just say, "Are you brainstorming out loud again?"
and "Tell me more."
Karen knows a lot of people and believes most of them
are her "close friends." She'll want a party for 30 of her
close friends. Help her to select her truly close friends.
Limits are all right.