A difficult child doesn't necessarily reflect parents' skills

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

A difficult child isn't necessarily a reflection of parenting skills

Maryland: I'm coming to terms with the fact that my 2-year-old is not very likable. Compared with the children of my siblings and friends, she is very fussy, clingy and unengaging, while the others seem so charming and can light up a room. I know I must accept whoever she is and whatever she becomes, but it hurts my feelings to watch the grandparents play with the other kids, then smile at mine out of duty, or to have to leave playdates because my kid fusses every time she is left in a room with other children. I was really looking forward to this time in my life, and instead I feel embarrassed all the time. Can you suggest anything?

Carolyn: First, I can beg you not to be embarrassed. It's not like you mixed her brain chemicals yourself from your signature recipe — you, like every other parent out there, got what you got. It may be the pet sport of newish parents to attribute, even just internally, every little kiddie triumph to the excellent effort of said kiddie's parents (and the failings of other people's kiddies to the failures of said kiddies' parents) — but so many of these incremental successes and failures end up coming out in the wash. The kid who walks months before everyone else and quotes Shakespeare at Gymboree can round out into as average an adult as you'll ever see, and, likewise, the fussy playdate killer can grow into a charming and thoughtful adult. Really.

So while you're right that you have to accept the child you have for who she is ("You get what you get and you don't get upset!"), you really don't know who she is yet. What you do know is that she's a tougher kid to raise, at least as far as you can see, than the other kids in your orbit right now.

That's a bummer worth a reassuring answer of its own, but it's not the far-reaching bummer you seem to be taking it to be. Try seeing it as a tough assignment that's most likely temporary.

Next, I can say where parental input does really count: The better you rally yourself to be there for your daughter, long-term, through difficult spells especially, the better the outcome for both of you. Hang in there.

Finally, I can suggest that you find someone you trust to talk to. Start with your pediatrician, since good ones can be reassuring in a way no regular bystander can. And, more important, they can discuss possibilities that friends and family float at their peril: that your child has health issues or developmental delays.

While most kids' charmless phases are just phases, sometimes there's a health issue underlying bad moods or lagging communication skills. Meanwhile, the best way to keep such health issues from being a problem in later life is to catch them early.

Since doctors can't vent with you over coffee, it's also important to identify any knowledgeable, nonjudgmental people with whom you can share your doubts and frustrations. Family, friends, acquaintances, support groups in person or online — keep looking till you find a welcoming spot.

Tuesday: A support group emerges.

A difficult child doesn't necessarily reflect parents' skills 10/03/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:19pm]

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