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The Emerging Personality

Six- to eight-year-olds begin to take on individual personalities—often different from those of their parents.

by Carol Peacock

Recently, at an adoption gathering, I noticed a friend standing on the sidelines, observing her six-year-old daughter interacting enthusiastically with the other children.

"ÒLook at Melissa," my friend said. "The life of the party! I've always been shy. We couldn't be more different."

The issue of raising a child different from oneself is not unique to adoptive parents. In fact, all parents confront the issue, particularly as their children reach elementary school.

Ages six to eight are years of emerging. Children begin to take on individual personalities, often different from those of their parents.

Carbon Copy Kids

Some parents, both adoptive and non-adoptive, crave replicas of themselves. They impose their own interests on their children. A musical parent requires a son to take piano, even when the son hates the piano. An athletic inclined mother pushes her daughter to play sports, despite the girlÕs strong protests. By trying to create mini-versions of themselves, these parents deny children their own identities.

Then there are parents like Melissa's mother—parents who recognize that their child has individual traits. They accept, even welcome, their child's unique qualities.

When we notice that our child differs from us, we may initially feel sadness and loss. Our child is no longer "ours;" she is separate and autonomous. We have lost the interdependence that can be comfortable to both parent and child in the early years.

Letting Go

If our child fails to mirror traits of ours that we particularly value, we are disappointed. Peter, a great risk taker, was distressed when his son emerged as a cautious child. But over time, Peter learned to appreciate his son's vigilance, which served him well, both in school and with friends.

As Melissa and I drank fruit punch in the corner, we watched her daughter. Noting their differences, Melissa knew where she, as a parent, stopped and where her child began. Melissa is allowing her daughter to blossom into her own person.

Just then, the girl tore herself away from her friends and ran over to hug her mother. The two squeezed tight for a moment, then the little one scampered away.

Melissa smiled. The parent-child bond remains strong, and it is flexible enough to encompass two people—different, yet deeply connected.

by Carol Peacock, author of Mommy Far, Mommy Near: An Adoption Story (Whitman 2000), which was named a 2001 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People.


Parenting Across Temperaments

by Lee Tobin McClain

  • If you're happiest curled up in a chair and your child... is constant motion Try this: Hire a high-energy babysitter and send them to the park.
  • If you're dramatic and emotional and your child... rarely gets upset Try this: Keep tabs on her. You don't want to miss something she's struggling with because her reactions are subdued.
  • If you're shy when it comes to meeting people and your child... thrives at parties -- the more people fussing over him, the better Try this: Be open to meeting more people, especially those with kids his age. But give yourself time to retreat, too.
  • If you're comfortable switching tasks and your child... has a meltdown when he has to stop a task midstream Try this: Give him a five-minute warning before he has to stop playing.
  • If you're the first to try new things and new foods and your child... clings to what he knows Try this: Encourage him to experiment, but don't push.

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