Let’s take a moment to talk about THAT child. The one in every family. You know the one. They are usually described as difficult, fussy, challenging, naughty, sensitive, demanding, high maintenance, or tiring. Ah, I can see by your smile that you know exactly which child I mean.
First of all can we please lose the labels? I know that we in our advanced modern world feel better about everything once we label it, but it really is pointless. Sure, there may well be “the easy one”, “the smart one”, and “the sporty one”, but most of the time most humans are much more than any one thing. When you think about the incredible developments taking place in those small minds and bodies it seems silly to think that one trivial word can sum up that budding personality.
And when talking about little people who just don’t seem interested in being “textbook” babies I also hate the negative implications behind such labels. Children (and here I mean all babies, toddlers, and small kids) are not being difficult, they just need a different approach.
Of course like almost everything worth learning in life this too was learned the hard way. Of my three sons there is one in particular, well known to family and friends, who challenged everything from day one. He tested my patience, energy, and sanity, regularly. Initially I stuck to my guns, after all this was just a baby, surely he could (and would) be taught to fit into my idea of what his routine should be. I should have known when he smiled genuine big smiles at two weeks and flipped himself out of the bouncer at four weeks that we weren’t dealing with your average baby here. When he was about six weeks old I remember saying that he smiled his angelic smile so early so that I wouldn’t get cranky with his lack of co-operation. Never have truer words been spoken. He had THE most beautiful smile, and trust me, it saved his bacon many times. (Still does).
With perfect crystal clear hindsight I can see how much time I wasted trying to bend him to MY needs. I needed him to follow a routine so that my day would be easier. I needed him to sleep the whole night through so that I too could get a good nights sleep. And while I don’t think I was being overly selfish I do think I was wrong. Signing up to be a parent means you also sign up for many sleepless nights, and while a solid routine is a good aim it can take some time to achieve. I regret that I didn’t know then just how special he is, because I may have enjoyed him a whole lot more rather that being exasperated by him. Eventually I did learn that he is a very square peg in a very round world. He doesn’t want to be like everyone else. He is very much his own person.
By the time he was in school we all knew that this was just who he is. The next hurdle though was the fact that at school there is generally no room for individuals. Teachers are dealing with twenty-five or so other children and don’t have the time or the patience to devote to one child who wants to do things his way. This son of mine was speeding through everything he was being taught at a lightening pace. To keep him busy (and quiet) the teachers would give him work to do that was way beyond his grade level. He was the child who would score off the charts, but constantly receive detentions for challenging the teachers authority. I got called up to see the teacher so many times, and apologized for his “misbehavior” so many times it was embarrassing. Even more so because the message he unequivocally received at home was to do as his teacher asked without question. Finally in year five he landed a teacher who was his soul-twin. She once told me very emotionally that she was THAT child in her own family, and that she loved his personality and found him to be a beautiful person. It meant so much to me after all the detentions and phone calls that had come before. He had easily his best year of primary school with her, and achieved his best results ever. Coincidence? I think not.
And while he has required us as his parents to think outside the square in raising him, the rewards have been enormous. He has a frightening intellect, a heart of gold, and a hilarious sense of humor. He can make me laugh like no one else on this planet. And while he still challenges us constantly, it’s reassuring to see that he still questions everything and doesn’t take the path most easily followed. All good things as he prepares to finish school and head out into the big bad world.
So rather than label a child as “too hard”, which may be hard to shake as well as being untrue, let’s think about our job as parents. After all, aren’t we the adults here? No-one ever said it was meant to be easy all the time. We can learn from our children just as much as they can learn from us. Sometimes we just have to get creative.
At least until the parenting application form comes with a box where you get to select the desired temperament.