Yes, children are shaped by their family environment and your parenting style. But they also come into the world with their own personality and character.
If you have more than one child, you would know how different children can be! It helps to understand how your child’s character can affect your parenting.
Research into temperament has identified that children differ on the following three qualities:
- Reactivity is the extent to which a child reacts to situations, from calm to intense. High reactivity can be energetic and enthusiastic but also volatile and moody; low reactivity can be calm and easy going but also lacking assertiveness.
- Sociability is the extent to which a child feels comfortable when meeting new people or experiencing new situations. High sociability can be friendly and outgoing but may also involve taking lots of risks; low sociability can be careful and reflective but can mean taking too few risks.
- Self-regulation is the extent to which a child can control their emotions and behaviour. High self-regulation can be calm and controlled but also cold and unexpressive; low self-regulation can be expressive and open but also intense and unpredictable.
Children start life at different points along each of these three qualities, and through experience they can learn to adapt.
All three qualities, like every personality or character trait, can manifest in good and not so good ways. But children with high reactivity, low sociability and low self-regulation can be more challenging to parent.
What can you do?
It helps to understand where your child may be placed along these three qualities, and adapt your parenting style to suit. It’s another reason why a ‘one-size fits all’ parenting approach is likely to fail.
For example, research has found that children who are shy, anxious or fearful (low on sociability) benefit from a gentle style of discipline that focuses on encouragement. It doesn’t help to protect your children from experiences – instead, it’s about supporting them to manage their fears and build their social skills.
Another example is kids who are high on reactivity and low on self-regulation. These children will react strongly to events and find it difficult to manage their emotions and behaviour. They are also more likely to push the boundaries. These kids benefit from a more firm style of parenting, where limits are set consistently and you follow through with consequences. But, like every child, they still need love and affection.
It’s not about a child being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’. But it’s about understanding how your child reacts to situations and how you may be able to help them.
After all, it’s our job as parents to help our children learn how to best navigate the world. It’s about helping our children to make the most of their qualities, whatever they may be.
Jodie Benveniste is a psychologist, parenting author and the director of Parent Wellbeing. You can find more parenting inspiration at parentwellbeing.com.