Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Reflections of Ourselves
Sometimes... your child's personality can really knock you off your feet. Especially when you realize that the frustrating personality trait is one similar to your own! Teagan is having an issue getting along with a specific other girl at school. From what the school's director, Lori, has shared, it seems to be more of an issue of both girls being "leaders" and, therefore, butting heads. In addition, Lori observed (because she's a little bit brilliant when it comes to understanding these kids) that Teagan's issues with this girl really came up during the time that the little boy that Teagan usually plays with was on vacation. This boy is younger and needs a bit more direction so Teagan's need to lead meshes well with his positive response to being led. We've seen Teagan's leadership desires before. It started with dance class. We started to notice that she wanted to be first. All. the. time. She wanted to answer questions first and loudest. She wanted to lead whatever exercise... be called on first. We would watch from outside the studio windows as the girls would line up for the Goodbye Dance and Teagan would slickly wiggle her way down the line so she would be next. Jeff and I were baffled. While we certainly can be competitive and while we have the natural desire to receive positive attention and feel special and in the spotlight (we were both community theatre junkies, afterall)... we didn't see in ourselves this drive that Teagan had to be best, first, front of the line. My memory of school certainly isn't clear. But I don't recall being the kind of student who was vying to be the favorite pupil or the line leader or get the best grades or whatever. Jeff had a mom who pushed him really hard to be that kid so he was really aware of not being best enough, first enough. So where on earth could this have come from? Obviously, every child comes with their own personalities. Our challenge isn't understanding where this comes from but figuring out how to parent this child with these tendencies that feel so different from our own. But the more I got to thinking about it, the more the lights started turning on. This totally came from me. And may well have come from Jeff, too. But it is developing as it should in a 4 year old. Jeff wants to do his best but often limits himself to doing nothing because he is somehow limited from doing his best. For example, our backyard playset. Jeff wants to build it, can build it, and can improve it. He has the knowledge and skill. So why hasn't it been built? Because he is limited by his shoulder injury. Instead of finding a way to get the set built with the help of others- who very well may not build it as succinctly and solidly as he would if he did it on his own- he doesn't get it built at all. If it can't be done the right way, the best way, the way that most exactly suits the purpose, it's better to just not do it at all. Sounds pretty competitive to me. Then I look at myself. I am not a perfectionist. I do aim to do my best, though. So if I'm going to be a mom, I am going to work to be the best mom that I know to be. If I'm going to blog, I'm going to figure out how to be the best blogger I can be. Be a close and invested friend? Yup- I'm going to figure out how to best meet your needs and make sure you feel that I value you. I'm not trying to be a better mom than someone else. I'm not trying to blog better than anyone else. I'm not trying to be a better friend than your other friends. I'm working to be the best me that I can be. Sounds pretty competitive to me. In her 4 year old realm, it is hard to take this drive to be best, first, leader and apply mom or dad's life experiences to filter this down to self-competition. So the drive turns into outward competition- being the teacher's perceived favorite, being the one who gets the "best" chore or job, being the line leader or getting first choice. Being being ahead of someone else. So our goal as parents is not to get this competitive edge out of her. We don't want to discourage her from being best or first. The challenge is to figure out how to teach her the difference between doing your best because it is your best you and doing your best in order to beat someone else. It's figuring out how to grow a child who is eager to succeed and accomplish for her own goals vs a child who bullies or cheats in order to get ahead. I am not one to favor reward systems at home. I think they work really well in a group setting as a way to manage behaviors in a larger setting. I think they can fail miserably in both cases. But I haven't really been a huge fan of implementing sticker charts or reward systems at home. We have used them from time to time... and they work so well with Teagan. Which, given this new insight, makes total sense. Teagan is a child that needs a lot of positive reinforcement and a lot of validation. Finding ways to do that sincerely is key. So this is new territory for me. My firstborn is a leader and will push limits to continue to get ahead. She is eager to be first, to be best and will manipulate and finagle her way into feeling and appearing to be so. Challenges and rules and confrontations will only serve to make her feel like she has to continue pushing back so she can be in the lead. My desire for her is to take this drive and hone it into something beautiful and positive for her. I feel like I am walking a tightrope over new and dangerous territory and I don't know where to turn. Her style is too similar to my own style for it to naturally work well together. Jeff and I are the response-able parents so we are the ones that need to figure out how to best parent this little reflection of ourselves.