If you’re anything like me, sometimes your child’s behavior baffles you.
You and your child seem to be completely different. You’re an avid soccer fan and your athleticism amazed every coach you’ve ever had. Not only does your son NOT play sports…he doesn’t like watching them either.
You’ve always been known as an introvert, the person who tends to be more productive when alone. Your daughter craves social interaction and always surrounds herself with a cackle of friends.
Sometimes I look at my son and wonder “What world are you from?!”
When he was three, I signed him up for swimming classes. As a child I had a profound love for swimming and always envisioned my kids sharing in that passion. Guess who is terrified of the water…
Most parents have a preconceived notion of what their kids will like. These notions can be quickly dashed away when we realize that these little humans have their own way of approaching the world and can have different abilities and completely different tastes. It’s important that we try to understand our children’s temperament and behavior so that we can better appreciate their uniqueness.
So, how does one connect with a child who has dissimilar interests?
Here are some tips to help you continue being a positive parent even when you and your child have very different tastes –
#1 Enjoy Your Child’s Uniqueness & Guide Them in Finding Their Own Interest
Watching your kids find their own interests can be fascinating! And while your little one may need to experience different activities before they find the shoe that fits, helping them on this journey can be an opportunity for you to watch their personalities come to life and can aid them in developing a strong sense of self.
Get them involved in different activities from a young age. From art to karate, music, dance or gymnastics, your options are limitless. Eventually, you will be able to identify those activities which are clearly a great fit for your child even if you could never imagine yourself enjoying them.
In helping your child to find his or her interest, it’s important for you to also bear in mind that kids can be extremely fickle. A love for soccer last week, can be short lived when they realize that they hate it this week because their best friend isn’t doing it. Don’t be too disappointed. Simply pay attention and don’t be afraid to let go of your inhibitions and join in the activity which your child loves.
Whenever your child tells you with excitement about something that they have accomplished, they are trying to bond with you. Be a supportive listener and always respond with interest!
You will be surprised to learn how much your kids initiate bonds. They do this by what is known as “bidding”. I learned about “bids” in the book The Everything Parent’s Guide to the Defiant Child by Jesse Jayne Rutherford and Kathleen Nickerson. A bid is any attempt at engagement and can be as simple as a hug or an excited conversation about something they like.
Always try to respond to bids! You may not share the same interests as them, but failing to respond can leave them feeling disconnected. Responding positively to your child’s bids however, can strengthen your connection.
#2 There are Fun Things You Can Do to Pique Their Interest
Respecting your child’s unique personality plays an important role in showing your kids that you support them but let’s face it, as a parent it can be very satisfying to introduce your child to your own hobbies – in small doses of course.
If for example, you love to read but your little ball of energy finds it hard to sit still long enough to get to page five of any book, don’t despair! Remember that reading material comes in many different forms. Make it fun! Introduce a word game while driving. Each person can take turns reading as many words as they can find. From billboards to street signs, and names of business places, you will find that your options for reading material are plentiful.
By finding fun ways to combine your hobbies with your child’s interests, you will be able to bond with them in a meaningful and effective way.
It is important however, that you do what you can to make it relaxed and fun. This means understanding that you may not get them to perform at the level you did when you were their age. And accepting that they may never be interested in pursuing the activity long term, and even if they do, probably not with the same level of fervor as you.
And that’s OK. The goal is to simply introduce your likes to them in interesting ways and see where it goes.
#3 Don’t Take It Personally
Try not to get offended if your child doesn’t seem to be receptive to your ideas. It is important that as parents, we don’t take things too personally.
Sometimes differences between a parent and child can be straightforward and easy to pinpoint and other times, these differences can be complex and impossible to define, and you can feel like you are incapable of tuning with your child’s personality.
Parenting is a wonderful roller coaster ride, full of high highs and low lows. There may come a time when you find it difficult to see eye to eye with your child. Stay calm, take deep breaths and think about what you say and how you will say it. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but the way in which it is said. So think about how you can respond constructively.
#4 Be Patient & Don’t Push Too Hard
Guess what, the cliché “patience is a virtue” rings especially true when you become a parent. Let’s face it, children can exasperate you. Everyone has a limit but when dealing with children, it’s important that we try to parent calmly and hold on to our patience at all costs (I know it sounds easier than it actually is).
Differences in tastes and interests can lead to personality clashes which can be extremely frustrating. This is where the parenting skill of patience becomes necessary. Yes, I call it a parenting skill because when dealing with the many demands associated with parenting, you can feel like your patience is being stretched to the absolute limit.
While keeping your cool when getting involved in different activities with your child, it is also important to remember not to push too hard. You can run the risk of sending a message to your child that there’s something about them that’s hard for you to accept. A child who feels as though they are being pushed in an uncomfortable direction can become rebellious.
If you haven’t yet read the book A Practical Guide for Raising a Self-Directed and Caring Child by Louis J. Lichtman, I highly recommend it! In this book, the author focuses on encouraging children to explore their own interests and set their own goals. Parents who adopt a more self-directed rather than a parent-controlled approach with their kids, will find that their kids are not only more independent but have higher self-esteem.
It’s our job as parents to know our kids. Being patient and focusing on understanding their behavior can help us to see things from their perspective. This can be as simple as taking some time to observe them while they are working on something. This can range from watching them while they paint or paying attention when they explain what their latest Lego structure actually is.
#5 We Don’t Always Have the Answers. It’s OK to Ask for Help
Sometimes as parents, we don’t like to ask for help. We want to be able to handle everything ourselves… and then reality sets in.
The trendsetter who had hoped that their daughter would replicate their sense of fashion, instead has a child who puts on the very first thing they can find (as mismatched as it may be). And then gets upset with you when you try to tell them why a baseball cap, a blouse, a pair of ragged jeans and boots does not an ensemble make.
You can feel like you have no idea what to do.
Growing up, I was the child who was likely to be bouncing off the walls and my eagerness to join every school club kept my parents busy. My sister on the other hand, could often be found spending time alone, enjoying her own company (large social gatherings still make her nervous). So as my son got older and I realized that he was much like her, I welcomed her advice in helping me to better understand his personality.
She helped me to realize that it was fine to just let him be himself and that my attempts to “help” him be more outgoing, was actually me pushing him to do the things that I liked at his age.
You can maintain a strong bond and connect with your child, as you try to teach them to navigate their own path. At the end of the day it’s not about how many things you have in common, as much as how much you can appreciate and support each other, even when you happen to have very different tastes.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
In your journey to building a great relationship with your child (no matter their personal tastes) ask yourself –
- Do you pay attention to what your child is interested in and try to find out why?
- Do you prioritize time with your child and try to get involved, even if it’s not your taste?
- How often do you follow your child’s lead? How often do you (intentionally or unintentionally) try to lead them towards what you like?
- Are you an appreciative audience when they excitedly share something with you?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Spending quality time with your children is the best way to connect with them. Even if they are completely different from you, find ways to interact and build new experiences together.
- Make sure you encourage your kids to talk about their day and the various activities they were involved in. This can be included in your morning or bedtime routine.
- Find ways to show your child that you accept their temperament. This can be as simple as a high-five or a silly dance to show them that you appreciate their uniqueness.
- Include new experiences – Think of a new place to visit. A new activity to try. New friends to make. New cuisines to sample. Who knows, you may even discover a common interest that neither of you realized that you had until then!