From the first moment I held my son, I felt I had always known him, as though we fit together seamlessly.
But lately, I struggle with him. He is so full of zest, such high energy, always go go go.
And I’m not.
I always viewed this energy as a challenge, as a negative aspect of him, and had constantly sent the message to him he was too much. Most of this happened subconsciously, but the struggles felt very tangible.
“Go over there!”
“I can’t deal with you anymore!!!”
“Will you just CALM DOWN!?”
I repeated these phrases on an endless loop, especially after the birth of my second baby.
“Give the baby space!”
“”Look, you’re making him cry.”
“Go over there!”
How could one parent-child pair be so incompatible? So many times, I felt guilty for trying to change him to make our relationship work. So many times, I grieved thinking that our relationship would always be tumultuous. I knew something or someone had to change.
Early last year, I began working with a positive parenting coach. Among many tools and paradigm shifting concepts, I learned about temperament. From birth, a person possesses their built-in personality or temperament. I read about the three main temperament types: active, slow-to-warm, and easygoing.
My son and I were seemingly on opposite ends of the temperament spectrum.
My parenting coach gave me the link to a parent-child temperament quiz. Although there are plenty of temperament quizzes available, I appreciated the focus of this particular one from Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development.
The IT³ quiz highlights the positive differences of all temperament traits and gives suggestions based on what mental health consultants call ‘goodness of fit’. They explain goodness of fit to mean “the compatibility between adult-child temperaments.”
Goodness of fit values the differences of temperament traits and requires no need for the parent to change their personality to provide wholesome care for their child. This idea also helps parents understand that their child’s personality doesn’t need to change either.
The temperament tool gives ideas and methods on how to offer support for your child’s temperament, and provides practical examples for honoring your child’s temperament strengths while also growing their temperament weaknesses. The IT³ quiz formats your child’s results next to yours so you can easily understand your compatibility.
I had a profound realization after initially taking that temperament quiz: I wasn’t even seeing my whole child.
I saw the struggle, the challenge, the negative side to parenting him–his high activity level. I am still getting over my parenting guilt.
Evaluating our results side by side, I could see we were similar in about half of the nine temperament traits. I had never considered how alike we were. I had also been blind to his high sensitivity level which explained his wide range of emotions and how tuned-in he was to my own emotions.
I experienced a level of sadness that left my heart sore. How could I not know my own child? How could I not see his vulnerability? How could I not understand that he needed more structure, more co-regulation, more validation, more love?
I had been trying to change his behavior for a few years, to make him a “good” child; easy to parent and pleasing to society. And after I had exhausted all the parenting tools I thought I knew, I tried to change myself, to somehow multiply my patience, to beat myself up about failing until I magically became a “good” mom. I also drank more caffeine in order to outlast his energy.
And finally, on the screen in front of me, I could see my child plainly. I could see myself honestly, too. I had the best parenting answers I could ever get. For the first time, I had hope that we could fit together seamlessly again, like I always knew we would.
Studying temperament can provide us with ways to adapt our parenting methods to what works specifically for our child. It allows us to pour into their positive traits and offer opportunities for our children to thrive within their innate strengths. It gives us insight into their struggles and how to build skills to work through challenges.
But how does this look in real life?
1. Take the temperament quiz.
2. See which practical suggestions will work for you and implement them one at a time.
3. Get in a positive parenting community/group. This could be your current friend group that you share with, perhaps a facebook moms’ group, or even starting to work with a positive parenting coach.
4. Talk with your child. You are both working together to build a relationship with each other. Let your child be part of that process. Working together in this way builds trust, respect, understanding, and deep appreciation.
So, what do you think? Are you and your child compatible after all?