Why Children Don’t Come with a Return Policy

When I want to purchase a car, I can take it for a test drive. When buying a new home, I can go through as many open houses as I like before I select one. When I buy a new shirt, I can return it if it doesn’t match what I already have in my closet.
return to sender
What a surprise when you have a child and you don’t get a test drive! You can’t try out different children before you pick the one you want. And you can’t decide how well this new child will fit into your family before you bring him or her home. As it turns out, your control over something so fundamental in your life is non-existent.

To make matters even more difficult, children are all unique. They are complex beings whose many components need to be considered at every turn and for every parenting decision. Raising each child requires a separate game plan which needs to be updated regularly.

Children are born with an innate set of traits known as temperament. These qualities are a part of who your children are. It is how they are born, just as some children have blue eyes and others have brown. Children’s temperaments are described along ten distinct continuums, with each child falling somewhere within the range for each characteristic:

TEMPERAMENT CHARACTERISTIC CONTINUUM

ACTIVITY LEVEL
Highly active…………………………………………………………Very quiet

REGULARITY
Very regular……………………………………………………Highly irregular

ADAPTABILITY TO CHANGE
Adapts quickly……………………………………………………Adapts slowly

FIRST REACTION TO NEW SITUATIONS
Jumps in…………………………………………………………………Withdraws

PHYSICAL SENSITIVITY
Low sensitivity…………………………………………………High sensitivity

INTENSITY OF REACTION
Mild reactions…………………………………………………Intense reactions

DESTRUCTIBILITY
Not easily distracted…………………………………Very easily distracted

OVERALL MOOD
Positive outlook………………………………………………Negative outlook

PERSISTENCE
Long attention span…………………………………Short attention span

EMOTIONAL SENSITIVITY
High sensitivity………………………………………………Low sensitivity

 

Communication Style

Beyond these ten temperament traits, children often have a preferred communication style. Some are more analytical and need to reflect on the events before they can focus on their emotions. Others are more guided by their feelings and need to acknowledge their emotions before they can think about what to do.

 

Introvert vs. Extrovert

Children also vary according to the basic ways in which they interact with the world. Some children are introverts, needing time alone to reflect on the day’s happenings. They may be happier with fewer interpersonal interactions, need fewer friends, and seem to get re-charged by down-time. Others are extroverts who get their energy by interacting with people, by having lots of activities, and by verbally processing with someone else to reflect on the day’s events.

 

Learning Style

Even learning styles vary among children: some learn by seeing (visual); others by hearing (auditory); and still others by doing (kinesthetic). Some need the details to build to the whole larger concept, while others need to understand the main point before they can retain the particulars. And sometimes children are a combination of the above at different ages and in different areas.

 

“Goodness of Fit”

Another very important thing to consider is something called “goodness of fit,” which is defined as the degree to which your child’s traits match your own inborn temperament, communication preference, ways of interacting with the world, and learning styles.

What one family views as difficult behavior may blend quite nicely into a different family. For example, a highly energetic child may “fit” quite easily into a sports-oriented, adventuresome clan. Yet that same child placed into a quiet, introspective, book-loving family may be viewed as a challenge.

Who your children are is not innately good or bad but often is a function of your interpretation of their behavior and of how good the fit is with your own styles and values. You can manage or encourage some of your children’s traits; however, you cannot change them. Sometimes your children are so much like you that you understand them instinctively. Other times, though, they can be mysteries that require much work to decipher.

 

Putting it all Together

When you contemplate all the different aspects of children to be evaluated, maybe you are lucky you don’t have to select which children to “test drive.” And when you consider how some traits are more beneficial at one age than another (yes, that toddler who continually throws temper tantrums when she does not get her way may very well grow up to be a highly persistent adult who makes important changes in this world), perhaps you are lucky that you don’t get to go through open houses to choose your children.

And sometimes the struggle of raising children who are very different from you can enable you to grow, not only as a parent, but as a person. So if your children don’t match what you already have in your home, maybe it is good that you can’t just return them. Maybe these differences are really gifts waiting to be unwrapped and cherished.

By Deb Cohen, Certified Parenting Educator

 
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For more information about temperament, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

Raising Your Spirited Child by Kurcinka The Difficult Child Understanding Temperament by Schick The Challenging Child by Greenspan

 
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