Discover what factors create a personality and give each of us a different perspective on life.
“When I approach a child
He inspires in me two sentiments:
Tenderness for what he is,
And respect for what he may become.”
One of the questions I am most often asked is, “How can two children having the same parents have such extremely different personalities and interests?”
We ascribe many differences to gender. Other times, it is easy to see how a child born physically challenged will be different than siblings who are blessed with strong physiques. Also, we recognize the importance that basic intelligence plays in the ease with which a child learns. One child may be particularly bright and enjoy school, while for his sibling, who has dyslexia, school is a struggle, although that child may star in another way.
Nevertheless, although siblings may be the same sex, equally intelligent and equally capable physically, when their parents are through playing The Parenting Game, there are several reasons why their “products” look, sound, and act differently.
Our Temperaments Are Different
We all come of out the chute, so to speak, with a particular point of view concerning what life is all about. These inborn characteristics—shyness, moodiness, intensity, extroversion—shape the way we approach the experiences that, in turn, help shape who we become.
For example, there are some children who enter each new experience with great enthusiasm, while others, who come equipped with a brain structure that makes them much more reticent, wait to see how things unfold before they venture forth. The manner in which each child enters into potential experiences will influence what each of them will get out of life.
Not long ago we took grandsons to Disneyland. The oldest is a very loving and gentle child, but he holds back in new situations and tends to be frightened of things he doesn’t understand. Because of his temperament, he didn’t care for the music and animation on the “Small World” ride and cried in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” His younger brother, on the other hand, who rushes into new adventures with abandon, loved everything.
At the end of the day we wanted to go on the Haunted House ride and knew the only sensible plan was to allow the older boy to watch the fireworks with another adult, while the rest of us went into the scary house. The younger child was thrilled and the older boy enjoyed the fireworks, although a couple years before then he had been frightened of the noise and it took several experiences before he agreed that fireworks were fun to watch.
Although both boys enjoyed their Disneyland adventure, they will have different memories of the day simply from having different perspectives with which they experienced the event.
What’s “In” and What’s “Out” Can Change Quickly
We can easily see the difference between cultural norms in one century and the next. Yet even within a decade there can be shifts that allow one sibling an experience the other sibling doesn’t get. For example, advancements in areas as diverse as technology and fashions keep a parent on her toes as she experiments with encouraging or discouraging her children’s use of the latest products, often before there has been time to test their full impact.
Before September 11, 2001, many parents taught their children that the United States was a secure country. After that fateful day, their sense of invincibility was shattered and they weren’t sure what to tell their children. Therefore, for many people this event changed the way they parented; perhaps the new reality caused them to create more anxious children than would be true for siblings who had come into the family in less frightening times.
Parents Grow and Learn New Parenting Tricks
It has been said that children should be like pancakes; you ought to be able to throw the first one or two away. While this may sound cruel to the first-born, there is a ring of truth to the idea that we make a lot of parenting mistakes with the first child. Fortunately, we aren’t allowed to throw our children away. Unfortunately, they have to suffer our inexperience until we’re able to manage to gain better parenting skills.
One of the primary ideas behind the Childhood Affirmations Program is to give parents skills they need so they will make fewer mistakes. Because we all have the opportunity to change and grow in the seventh stage of life, we still have the opportunity to discover what we didn’t learn about parenting when we were growing up, or haven’t yet learned as an adult. None of us is perfect, we all have a growing edge, some rough part of our personality that may be getting in the way of parenting well. The good news is that it’s never too late to learn.
That’s why I hope you’ll check out the Strategies for Raising Resourceful, Resilient, and Compassionate Children, which I developed after my children were raised. I hope your learning curve can rise more sharply than mine did.
If parents divorce when a child is two-months old, that rupture in the fabric of the family will leave a different-sized hole in the life of a child than would be true if the child were four, or ten, or eighteen. The same is true of stresses on a family that occur because of a major loss, such as the loss of a job, the loss of a house in a flood, the death of a sibling or a parent. Both the event itself and the age of the child when the event occurs will impact different children differently.
Similarly, a parent who had been a full-blown alcoholic, and then entered a recovery program and turned his life around, will have a different impact on his children depending on their age (as well as their temperament, of course, since some will be naturally more sensitive to his change in behavior than other children will be).
Children Help Choose Their Role in the Family
It seems to me that one of the most significant influences in creating different children in the same family comes from the fact that we all have two basic psychological needs; one is the need to belong and the other is the need to be special. When the first child is born, the temperament of that child will help determine the role she plays. For example, if she is naturally easy-going and eager to please, her parents are likely to talk about that trait, which reinforces it, since she receives positive attention by continuing to do what she is temperamentally programmed to do anyway.
Let’s say she then has a little sister who is naturally a bit more excitable and inquisitive, causing her to be told “no” a lot and to get into trouble. When the first child is then referred to as “our compliant child,” both children can discover a role for themselves that sets them apart. The first by being “good” and the second by being “not-so-good.”
There are other combinations, of course. There is the child who is referred to as the “sports enthusiast” in the family and the child who is “our quiet scholar.” Each role brings a distinction to that child, even though the characteristics that set him or her apart aren’t really that significant. But the perception of everyone involved perpetuates a label that gives each child a feeling they aren’t like their brother or sister. They are special.
Arlene F. Harder, MA, MFT is Founder and Editor-in Chief of the websites http://Support4Change.com and http://ChildhoodAffirmations.com She has been a licensed psychotherapist for more than 20 years. Her specialties include healing imagery and reflective meditation techniques, and she is certified by the Academy for Guided Imagery. She is a co-founder of The Wellness Community-Foothills in Pasadena, California, and the author of the book Letting Go of Our Adult Children: When What We Do is Never Enough, and Questions to Ask Yourself When You Want Your Life to Change. Arlene can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be found at her blog, http://www.support4change-blog.com