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Every Child Is Unique

Excerpted from

You've Got to Be Kidding! : Real-life parenting advise from a mom and dad of nineteen

By ,

The best way to describe dinner in the Williams household is to say that it resembles a meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The outward differences between our children are easy to see. Some are light skinned and light eyed; others have dark brown skin, hair, and eyes. Some are Hispanic, others are of Asian origin, and still others are Caucasian.

One quick glance will tell you that our kids come from different parts of the world. But there are other, deeper, differences that are harder to see. Some of our children are gifted athletes. Others are inclined toward music or art. Some have sailed through school without ever spending much time in study, while others have worked very hard to maintain a C average. Some have dropped out of high school, and others have earned their master's degree. Some of our children are introspective, by nature quiet and thoughtful. Others are like the Energizer Bunny and very vocal.

In other words, every child is different, so every child requires unique parenting. For example, each child presents different discipline issues and requires different discipline methods. One time Alan was grounded at home for getting a detention at school. One of our rules is that when you get in trouble at school, you also get grounded at home. We want our kids to be respectful and follow the school Riles. So when Alan got the detention, we took away his PlayStation 2 for a week. When we did this, he asked, "Why don't you ground me from the phone like you do Caroline?" We responded, "Alan, you never use the phone. That wouldn't be punishment for you. It is for Caroline because she spends a lot of time on the phone." Other kids might lose their driver's license or television privileges. The punishment may be different, but our children are treated equally and fairly.

In addition, what motivates one child does not motivate another. We can't expect all of our kids to excel in the same areas of life. Yet we can, and do, expect each child to follow our family rules and guidelines. We expect all of our children to give their best effort at whatever they do. If we can help them do that, we're happy.

In his junior year of high school, Alan was named captain of the basketball team, and we were delighted to know that the effort he put forth on the court had paid off. We knew that he had given it his very best effort. But we also knew that he'd made a good effort when he came home with anything higher than a C in English class. For Alan to get a grade less than an A does not mean that he didn't try his best. But if his sister came home with a D in English, we'd know she didn't try very hard; she's capable of doing better.

Sometimes it's hard to accept and appreciate differences in children. Human nature being what it is, we naturally favor children who want to follow in our footsteps or who have the same dreams and aspirations for themselves that we have for them. It's also natural to be hurt or disappointed when our children don't share our same strengths in life or when they have no interest in or aptitude for things we feel passionate about. All this is natural ... but it's wrong just the same.

1. Don't Compare Children to One Another

We have learned from experience that there is absolutely no value in comparing our children to one another in terms of grades, behavior, obedience, or any other area of life. We have made the mistake of doing that to our kids once in a while, and they always hate it. So we try not to make negative comparisons such as:

  • "Why can't you get A's in math, like your brother does?"

  • "Just look at how well your sister is behaving. Why can't you be more like her?"

  • "Another note from your teacher about acting up in class? Your sister has never brought home a single note from any of her teachers."

  • "We've never had this kind of trouble with any of your brothers or sisters."

Such comments may be intended to motivate, but they almost always have the opposite effect. The child who hears such things can instead be demoralized by the fact that she does not measure up to her siblings in her parents' eyes. She may feel resentful and angry toward her brothers and sisters who've made her look bad. Instead of being challenged by her siblings' accomplishments, she may simply give up, thinking, "Oh, what's the use? I can never be as good as they are anyway."

We try not to compare our children in "positive" ways either. This means we don't say things like:

  • "Wow! Look at your sister's report card. Straight A's! I want to see you do that next semester."

  • "Did you see the game your brother had yesterday? Four hits in five at-bats. But I bet you'll do even better than that in your game tomorrow."

  • "You're a faster swimmer than your sister was at your age. I can't wait to see what you're going to do in high school!"

We feel, based on personal experience, that such statements put undue pressure on children to meet their parents' expectations. We have seen that making comparisons between children is always counterproductive.

2. Don t Push Your Expectations on Your Children

Now, despite what we just said, there are certain things we expect from all of our kids.

  • We expect them to try hard.
  • We expect them to be honest.
  • We expect them to be good citizens (courteous, polite, trustworthy, and so on).
  • We expect them to stay away from drugs and alcohol
  • while they're living under our roof.
  • We expect them to attend church and Sunday school.
  • We expect them to show respect for us and to obey the rules we have established.

Within that context they are free to do what they feel like doing. We don't push any particular sport or activity, but we don't expect our children to sit around and do nothing. We want them to be involved in activities that will help them develop into well-rounded individuals. But instead of trying to get them to do what we want them to do, we urge them to think about what they want to do, and then we help them do it.

It's good to let children choose their path.

Some parents drag their young daughters to auditions and acting lessons or push them to participate in beauty pageants. These parents may think they are doing it for their child's benefit, but most of the time they're only living out their own desires and fooling themselves. It is a huge mistake for any parent to try to live his dreams through his children.

Your kids should be living their own dreams—not yours. When parents try to force their dreams on their children, it doesn't work. Many times children feel rejected by parents who do this.

Tags: Parenting and Families