QUESTION: Our kids could not be more different—our 4-year-old daughter is outgoing, chatty and adventurous; our 6-year-old son is shy and scared of anything new. She loves jumping into the pool; he sticks his toe in then cries. This makes it difficult to find activities for both of them to do. Any ideas?
BBB: That you have two very different children is no surprise to me. In fact, what surprises me is when parents expect their children to be alike. Even mine—triplets who are two and 10 minutes apart—are very different children. And they came out that way, evident from their first breaths.
A child’s temperament is part of the factory-equipped model that he is. Each is genetically predisposed to having a particular temperament.
Likely, if you looked closely enough, you would be able to see that each of your kids is like you or their father or a grandparent or uncle.
When it comes to temperament, it comes from somewhere. And although environment, experience and growth can affect that temperament, it is still there at the core of the child.
From where I sit, I think the problem is your expectation that your children should like to do and enjoy the same things. It’s time to recalibrate.
My guess is that each time there is an activity that is problematic for your son, he is reminded of what he can’t do, and he feels bad about himself. This, of course, just makes everything even worse. I fear there is a constant comparison to his sister.
I do have a few suggestions for you.
• Divide and conquer. I am hoping there is a second parent in the household. One parent takes one child to do something he enjoys. The next day, you switch. It can be as little as a half hour in the evening or just an hour on a weekend day.
• Lower your expectations for your son. When you or his sister choose an activity that is not his cup of tea, allow your son not to participate or to involve himself in any way he wants or not at all. And no judgment, please.
• Allow your son to choose an activity for all of you, and you all need to enjoy it! This guy needs to feel good about himself. I am sure his spunky little sister will be happy to do anything.
• As much as possible if you must have the children together, choose neutral activities like art projects, nature walks, building projects—things that are not so threatening or risky to your son.
• Help your son learn to take risks when he is alone with just one parent and there is no other child with whom to compare himself. Take it slowly, praise the baby steps and build on his successes.
Remember, your son did not choose to be the way he is. It is part of his core. I feel strongly that children who are “shy” (and that is not a word I ever use) are discriminated against. But that is for another column.
Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is the author of the bestselling “Just Tell Me What to Say” and has been featured on the “Today Show.” Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.