Temperament — Hey, We Were Born That Way

Dear Mr. Dad: We have a two boys, ages 6 and 4. We’ve tried hard to raise them the same way, but they’re completely different. The older one is generally pretty calm and cheerful, but the younger one is wild, noisy, and impossible to discipline. How could two kids raised in the same house by the same parents be such polar opposites?

A: You may think you’ve raised your kids the same way in the same house, but you really haven’t. First of all, you and your spouse have changed—a lot. When your first child was born, the whole parenting thing was totally new. Like most new parents, you probably had no idea what you were doing and you were afraid of making mistakes. By the time baby number two arrived, you’d gained a lot of confidence and discovered that most of the things you’d worried about were trivial at best.

Second, as you well know, taking care of two kids is very different than taking care of one, so there’s no way in the world (barring cloning yourself) that your youngest could have gotten anywhere near as much of your undivided attention as his big brother did. Given all that, how could your children not be different?

But even if you had raised both children in identical circumstances, there’s a good chance that they’d still be very different.

About fifty years ago, researchers Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas found that every child has a unique collection of emotional and behavioral traits that make up his or her “temperament.” That temperament is noticeable almost from birth and continues throughout life. Here’s a brief overview.

  • Approach/Withdrawal: This is your child’s initial reaction to meeting new people, tasting new foods, or being in unfamiliar situations. Approaching children are extroverts and enjoy the new and different. Withdrawing children are shyer and take time to get used to new things.
  • Adaptability: This is how your child reacts to changes in routines. Fast-adapting children adapt easily, slow-adapting kids get upset if anything changes.
  • Intensity: This is essentially your child’s volume knob. Low-intensity children (like your oldest) are relaxed and even-tempered. High-intensity kids do everything—whether it’s shrieking with delight or having a tantrum—incredibly loudly.
  • Mood: Positive mood kids laugh and smile all the time. Negative mood kids tend to be pouty, even for no reason.
  • Activity level: Low-activity children can sit quietly for long periods of time and prefer low-energy games and activities. High-activity kids can’t sit still and prefer higher-energy activities.
  • Regularity: Predictable children get hungry, tired, wake up, and even use the bathroom at about the same time every day. Unpredictable babies are, well, unpredictable.
  • Sensitivity: Low-sensory-aware children often seem oblivious to bright lights, strong odors or flavors, textures, and even pain. High-sensory-aware children are easily overstimulated and have a tough time dealing with everything from temperature to noise.
  • Distractibility: Low-distractibility kids can focus intently and may not notice interruptions (or attempts to get them to stop what they’re doing). High-distractibility kids have shorter attention spans and an easier time moving from one activity to another.
  • Persistence: Persistent children can entertain themselves for hours and will spend lots of time working of projects or learning new things. Low-persistence children lose interest quickly, often claim to be bored, and take a little longer to finish anything, whether it’s homework or a Rubik’s Cube.

 

Bottom line: Temperament is what it is—there’s no “right” or “wrong.” Your children are the way they are mostly because they were born that way, and there’s very little you or your spouse could have done to change things.

Raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money

Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled.
Topic:
Raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money.
Issues: Why we need to talk about money; how to start the conversation; the allowance debate; the smartest ways for kids to spend; how to talk about giving; why kids should work; how much is enough?

Straight Talk on Parenting + The Opposite of Spoiled


Vicki Hoefle, author of The Straight Talk on Parenting.
Topic:
A no-nonsense approach to growing a grown-up.
Issues: Creating a blueprint of where you want to be; understanding that parenting is more about on-the job training and less about being perfect; bedtime bedlam, morning meltdowns; sibling squabbles; sass and backtalk; the trouble with tech.

Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled.
Topic:
Raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money.
Issues: Why we need to talk about money; how to start the conversation; the allowance debate; the smartest ways for kids to spend; how to talk about giving; why kids should work; how much is enough?

Baby, It’s Still Cold Outside

If your family is one of the millions that have been affected by the recent Polar Vortex-induced weather craziness and you’re spending more time inside than usual, we’ve got some great ideas for fun, imaginative, affordable indoor play.

fashion doll coupeFashion Doll Coupe (American Plastic Toys)
You won’t be driving a real convertible for at least another few months, but there’s no reason why your child’s dolls and stuffed animals should suffer. This is a basic, no-frills, open-top roadster built for two. That means no batteries, and no remote control. It’s powered by plain, old fashioned imagination (and your child’s hands, of course). The plastic “tires” don’t leave those annoying black marks on your floors like rubber tires do. Made in the USA, the Coupe costs only $5.00 (really!) and is available wherever you buy your toys.

Fashion Doll Delightful DollhouseFashion Doll Delightful Dollhouse (American Plastic Toys)
If your little one has been hankering for a dollhouse, this is a great time to get her one (assuming you can find your car under all the snow). This dollhouse is huge—three entire floors—so big, in fact, that several kids (or parents) can play at the same time. It comes with plenty of furnishings and other accessories: several beds, a couch, ottomans, a bathtub, tables and chairs, lamps, a washer/dryer set, pillows, and more. And there’s enough room left over to accommodate anything you’d want to add. If you’re buying online, one particularly nice feature (for you, not the UPS driver) is that the dollhouse comes partially assembled, so you and the kids can be playing within minutes. The Delightful Dollhouse costs around $100 and is widely available. For $50, there’s also a smaller version, the Fashion Doll Cozy Cottage, which also comes with plenty of accessories.

hexbug tony hawk skateboardTony Hawk Circuit Board (Hexbug)
If you’re into fingerboarding, it would be hard to imagine a more fun way to play than this. The large kit we reviewed comes with pretty much everything you’ll need to build your own skate park: an inner bowl, an outer bowl, two quarter pipes, a roll-up ramp, a rail, and, of course, a skateboard. We’ve always loved Hexbug’s attention to detail and well-built products, and the Circuit Board doesn’t disappoint. All of the park components snap firmly together and have a realistic look and feel. The board itself feels quite real too, complete with grip tape and sticky-ish wheels. If your fingers get tired, you also get a Power Axle, a remote control unit, a tiny screwdriver, and even-tinier screws that you’ll use to attach the axle. The controls are a little odd—push the right stick and you go left, push the left to go right. But once you’ve mastered them, you’ll be ready to start grinding rails. $49.99. Hexbug.com

hexbug shark tankAquabot 2.0 Shark Tank (Hexbug)
You and the kids can have plenty fun with your robotic Angel Fish—at least until the shark decides to turn him into a meal (that part’s fun too). The kit comes with one Angel Fish, several pieces of decorative “coral,” a sturdy hexagonal tank, and a shark who’s attached to a ramp that snaps onto the side of the tank. When you push the shark down, his mouth opens; pull back and the jaws of death close. If you’re lucky, he’ll have a mouth full. You can increase your chances by dropping in a few more fish. Hexbug’s technology keeps getting better and better: This generation of fish are water-ready and go to sleep after five minutes of inactivity. You can wake them up, though, by tapping on the glass. $29.99. Hexbug.com

Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Divorce?

Coping with divorce is never easy, but you can make things a lot easier if you choose a strategy that allows you to divorce without going to court. Staying out of court reduces time, expense, and trauma for everyone involved, especially the children.

There are several ways to handle a divorce without court. Ultimately, your personal and family situation will dictate which option is best for you. If you’re a dad, you may be concerned about visitations and the impact that your divorce will have on your children.

I spoke to the divorce lawyers at Galbraith Family Law, in Barrie, Ontario, who said “Although separation and divorce can be heartbreaking and challenging with the emotions that come along with it, having an experienced divorce or family attorney can help with this process tremendously. These lawyers can help you with your cases and settlements using out-of-court options such as Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Law. This is the best way to ensure there is minimal effect on all parties involved. Especially those fathers who most often experience suffering after divorce, as well as the children.”

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