You are the life and soul of the party and never miss a social engagement. Your son prefers to sit in his bedroom and read.
You love clothes, shoes and makeup and take care of your appearance. Your daughter is a slob who refuses to shower, won't brush her hair and has no interest in clothes.
You're an introvert who needs time alone every day. Your toddler follows you everywhere and never stops chattering. You can't even take a pee without this little firecracker hanging onto your ankles.
People are as unique as snowflakes and sometimes our children are completely different than us. They have different dreams, different motivations and different abilities. They don't care about the things you care about. And they certainly don't want to do things your way.
As a parent, this can be awfully hard to handle. We like it when our plantings are just like us. It's far easier to parent a child who has a certain fluency in our values than the family black sheep. So we try, often unconsciously, to cultivate the traits that may come less naturally to our children, to shape them into the kind of adult we want them to be.
Unsurprisingly, parenting can get tricky if you try to raise a mini-me. It's frustrating when your high-spirited, distractible daughter ignores your twentieth plea to "settle down." It's embarrassing when your shy, introspective son won't let go of your pant leg and jump into a crowd of kids, especially if you are naturally adventurous and strong-willed.
Creating an environment that better matches your child's unique temperament is the only way to decrease, or even end, such frustration. Here are some tips for dealing with personality clashes before they drive the both of you nuts.
1. Identify what your child is, and what she is not
It's difficult to personality type a young child - until the age of 14 or so, the motivations behind a child's observed behavior can be very confusing, even to the child herself. Much of what a child does, or does not do, is learned behavior from parents telling him to "do your homework" or "tidy your room." But it is possible to observe certain behaviors that will give you some clues as to what energizes and motivates your child.
Do her eyes dance with excitement as she waits for her friends to arrive? Probably an Extravert. Does he need praise about his performance and avoid confrontation like the plague? Probably a Feeler. Does she have an astonishing memory for details, love to plan out tasks and won't believe anything you say until you "prove it?" Almost certainly a Sensor.
Paying careful attention to your child's activity level, tolerance for routines and emotional intensity will really help you to focus down on the key traits that represent your child's natural temperament. Make sure to not jump to conclusions that may not be accurate, however. Sometimes, our own desires and prejudices cause us to pigeonhole our children and ignore their own special wiring. Instead, try to observe impartially or ask a friend to help you out if you are really struggling to recognize patterns in your child's behavior.
2. Talk with your child about the differences
If your child is old enough, talk to them about the differences between you. Don't just focus on the child's "otherness," though - tell your child how much you enjoy his unique strengths and responses.
For example, you could say; "I appreciate how dedicated and organized you are at playing your clarinet when you get home from school. Those are really great skills that will help you accomplish your goals in the future. I am different from you in that I like to go with the flow and do whatever I feel like doing when I get home. But that's OK, too."
3. Problem solve and compromise together
He leaves a trail of devastation behind him and plans things on the fly, you can't focus until the work is organized and the house is as shiny as a new pin. You've identified that your child is probably a Perceiver and that you have Judging tendencies. It's hardly the dream scenario. But it is possible to work out the differences.
For example, you could set a basic level of structure around household chores. Once a week, insist that your child's room is tidied and his sheets are washed. The rest of the time, give your child permission to organize his space as he pleases. Through compromise, your child will learn the need for some predictability and closure, and you will learn to be flexible with your priorities.
Obviously, the compromises you reach will depend on your individual pressure points. The important thing is that you problem solve together and support the other's preferences. This will help your child to understand that you are sacrificing just as much as he is in order to improve your relationship.
4. Appoint an advocate for your younger child
Younger children will not be able to problem solve and compromise effectively so it is important to identify a friend or family member who can advocate for your child, ideally one who shares many of the same personality traits. This person can act as a sounding board and suggest ways to support your child when they next catch you off guard.
Sometimes, just talking through the issues with a sympathetic adult is enough to restore a sense of perspective. And it would help tremendously if the competent adult could spend time with your child when you're emotionally exhausted and need time to recharge.
5. Focus on the positives
Parenting is tough at the best of times and it's easy to blow things out of proportion when you are feeling let down by your child's personality. When your child acts out, why not challenge yourself to look at their "annoying" traits in a new way?
For example, you may be frustrated when your child wanders off before he's completed his Lego tower. But think of the bright side - your child enjoyed the activity more than the result, and is probably very comfortable exploring new experiences.
You may be irritated when your slow-to-warm-up daughter stubbornly refuses to join group activities. But is she a pro at people watching? Introverted people reflect on the things they see and are generally non-threatening, attentive and thoughtful when they approach new situations. These attractive qualities could really help your child develop deeper and more fulfilling relationships as she transitions into adulthood.
If you really can't see an upside to a particular behavior, take a few minutes to remind yourself of all the great qualities your child has. If you could bottle your child's kindness, would you be a millionaire? What about their tenacity, their independence, their unrelenting joy of life? Everyone has at least one outstanding quality - keep that in focus, and the rest is merely details.
Summing it up
Differences are great and can really balance out the family dynamic. Imagine if everyone in your family were iron-willed - you'd butt heads like mountain goats. Or if all of you were flighty - your child would never remember her school books.
In fact, one of the great joys of parenting is seeing the world through different eyes. The more divergent your child's personality, the fresher that perspective. Take the time to really appreciate your child's personality and you'll learn to broaden your own horizons. Then you can really help your child to be the best she can be.