“I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.”

August 15, 2010

in Respectful Parenting

Recently S. said, “Lisa, I just like what I like, and I don’t like what I don’t like, and it’s always going to be that way. But I might like some new things when I get bigger.”

S. will be celebrating her fifth birthday in a few weeks, and is quite sure of who she is, and what she likes and doesn’t like.

Maybe because her birthday is fast approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how she’s grown and changed over the past four years since I’ve known her.

One thing that strikes me is that the essence of who S. is has remained remarkably constant over time.

The other day when she was upset about something, and I asked her what was wrong and what would make her feel better, she cried out, “Nothing!” before flouncing off to her room to regain her calm by looking through some of her beloved books.

S. has reacted in this very same way whenever she has been frustrated or overwhelmed, since she’s been less than two years old. Then, she would respond, “Anything!” to our inquiries and attempts to help, before retreating to her room to regain balance. (Mind you, we never sent her to her room, this was her chosen way to calm herself).

Any seasoned parent will tell you that babies arrive in this world with their own unique personalities and quirks, which tend to remain constant over time.

Knowing and understanding a child’s particular personality and ways of approaching life can help us to be more sensitive parents and teachers to them.

Magda Gerber believed we could best come to know and understand babies by stepping back a bit, and observing, to give them time and space to express and develop their unique personalities.

A recent study seems to confirm that our personalities are set for life by the time we are in the first grade, and our personalities as children can predict our behavior as adults.The researchers looked at traits such as talkativeness and adaptability.

The author of the study (Christopher Nave), which was done at the University of California at Riverside, was quoted as saying, “We remain recognizably the same person, which speaks to the importance of understanding personality because it does follow us wherever we go across time and contexts.”

I wonder if this is why our image of ourselves remains fairly constant across time as well, and if it explains why we can be celebrating our fortieth birthday, but not feel so much older, or so much different from when we were much younger, despite all the physical evidence to the contrary?

To be sure, our own personalities have a huge impact on the way we parent (or care), and knowing and understanding ourselves can go a long way to building our relationship with our children, and navigating potentially difficult situations. With self understanding we can remain true to who we are, and draw on our strengths while meeting the needs of our children who may have very different personalities from us.

The Myers Briggs Inventory is one popular tool which is used to determine personality type, and cognitive (learning) style. It tends to be highly accurate, and is often used to guide people to work that best suits them and that they’ll most enjoy.

I took the test once as a young adult, and again just recently, and the results remained the same over time.

Now, I’m not suggesting you take the Myers Briggs Inventory, but I do want to share a new book and web site that I just discovered that I think is a wonderful, supportive tool for parents (and teachers of young children as well) who are interested in exploring this topic a bit more.

It is called MotherStyles, and it uses personality theory to help you discover your strengths as a parent. You can find it here: www.motherstyles.com.

You don’t have to buy the book to benefit from what the author, Janet Penley, who is a mother herself, has to offer. You can take either a brief or a longer survey on-line, and discover your parenting type or style, and there is a wealth of information and a blog, that will help you to understand the strengths you bring to parenting.

What I love is that this web site is so positive, and practical. Janet believes that:1) Good mothers come in many styles, and every mother brings natural strengths to the mothering experience that make her children lucky to have her as a mother.

2)No mother is perfect, because every mother is human- so along with the strengths you bring to mothering, you have limitations, needs, and vulnerabilities. The good news is kids don’t need perfect mothers- they need human mothers.

3)Finally, self- knowledge is the key to successful parenting, just as it is in any job or relationship, but doubly so in mothering because the mother’s role is both job and relationship.

I can whole-heartedly recommend this resource to all parents and teachers of young children. Check it out today!

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