The Secret That Pediatricians Want Parents to Know
Ask any parent and they’ll tell you: Parenting can be tough. But for some parents, it can feel downright grueling. There are moms who swear that their baby cries more than the others in their playgroup. There are dads who are convinced that their toddler will never sleep through the night even though his peers have mastered it. And there are parents who have practically given up on potty training their preschooler after many failed attempts. More often than not, these parents feel defeated.
If you’ve ever felt that way, don’t blame yourself, says Laura Jana, M.D., pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. And she lets you in on a secret: There is no one-size-fits-all solution to parenting, and it’s okay if you make up your own rules sometimes because every child is different. “There are lots of personality types. It’s true of adults and there’s no reason to believe it’s not true of babies and kids—and some children are more excitable and emotional than others.”
For many parents this translates into an exacerbating situation with a child who defies the logic in parenting books and is hard to handle. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s time to lose the guilt. “Parents have this perception that we’re supposed to understand our babies and have similar temperaments, but that’s not always the case,” says Dr. Jana. “And it’s understandable that parents find that challenging.” Though it can make for some tricky parenting moments (like, say, public meltdowns in the supermarket), Dr. Jana notes that there are things you can learn from these experiences, and you can still have a wonderful connection with your child.
For one thing, instead of thinking of your baby’s tough temperament as a failing on your part, “do not take it personally; recognize your baby as an individual,” says Dr. Jana. “I am a big believer in the notion that you can see personalities emerging early on in babies, and if parents recognize that, it takes away a lot of the frustration they feel.”
View your child’s tendencies as a window into how she thinks and feels and a chance to get to know her. “When I think back with my three kids as babies, I can see glimmers of their personalities now in how they reacted to situations, how they slept, if they were fussy,” notes Dr. Jana. “If you try to think about where your child is coming from, then it’s not like there’s something wrong.”
Then, use that information to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for your child. For instance, if your child gets agitated in big crowds, plan activities in more intimate settings. Or if your child does best with routine, try to stick to her regular schedule as much as possible. “Instead of fighting it, ask yourself, what environments make her happy and thrive?” suggests Dr. Jana. “I know I plan things to work with my temperament. This is human nature, and we just need to apply it to babies and children.”
Of course it can sometimes feel as though every other parent is able to calm their children easily or make them happy. But most parents have to adjust based on the child they have. “We’re given the false impression that there’s one way to do something—if the baby is fussy, do this, or if the child has a cold, do this—but that’s not true, there is no one answer,” says Dr. Jana. “If someone asks me how to soothe a baby, I say, it depends on the baby—so you have to know your kid.”
Even more than that, “celebrate the good parts of your child’s personality,” adds Dr. Jana. Find their strengths and focus on those. No, it may not make the sleepless nights any easier, but it will help you connect with your child and make your relationship that much richer.
-- By Rachel Rabkin Peachman