From the moment a baby is born, most parents have a certain idea of what their kid will be like. Maybe they hope their child will grow up to be a lawyer like their mom or a college athlete like their dad.
However, very rarely do children grow up to be exactly what their parents expect them to be.
Take it from Maureen Emily. Maureen is a self-proclaimed extrovert through and through and always assumed her daughter, Georgia, would be as outgoing and bubbly as she was.
But when Georgia started refusing to participate in gym class and receiving low participation grades on report cards, Maureen felt disappointed and confused.
“I guess I wasn’t expecting her to have such a shy and submissive personality,” Maureen admitted. “For a while, I would push her to do certain activities that she clearly wouldn’t have chosen to do on her own. I figured that her shyness was just a phase and that she would eventually grow out of it.”
Eventually, Maureen realized her daughter’s shyness wasn’t a phase or a weakness. Rather, her quiet daughter was a keen observer and a careful listener. Soon, Maureen began to appreciate her daughter for these strengths, despite the fact that she was so different from herself.
It’s actually quite common
As it turns out, several parents are just like Maureen and may struggle to come to terms with the fact that their child is nothing like them.
“Most parents have some expectations that their kids will be like them, that they will share their interests and affinities, and may frankly be disappointed when their kid is different or doesn't meet their expectations,” Vinodha Joly, a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in Pleastonton, CA, says.
Unfortunately, parents who are unable to see and appreciate who their child truly is may hamper their child’s development by projecting their own wants, needs, and expectations onto their child, Joly, notes.
She sees this sort of behavior frequently, especially in high-achieving cultures where parents put immense pressure on children’s academic achievements rather than encouraging their child’s own set of interests and passions.
Other times, like in the case of Maureen’s, it is simply a personality mismatch. A parent may be mystified that their child prefers to spend time alone or snuggled up with a good book rather than go out with friends.
What are the biggest mistakes?
Sometimes, parents will punish their children for being different or nudge them to be more like them or a sibling.
This kind of behavior, as you may have expected, can be quite damaging for the child’s development.
“When a child senses that a parent is disappointed in how he / she is, this creates a deep scar in the child's psyche, and a lack of feelings of self-worth,” Joly says. “A child needs a parent's unconditional acceptance to develop their autonomy, to reach their potential, and to become who they truly are.”
According to some experts, more often than not, parents are simply not aware of how they project their own self-criticism or non-acceptance onto their children – something that stems from their own experience of lack of approval or acceptance in their own childhood.
Joly advises her clients to cultivate self-acceptance and self-compassion to help them develop empathy for their child’s separate mind and life path.
It’s crucial for parents to understand that their role is not to mold their child into something based on their own needs, he says, but to nurture their child and let them blossom into their own individual and unique person.
Appreciate your child and help them grow
First and foremost, parents should try to accept and understand that their children’s preferences, dispositions, and passions may be totally different from their own – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
“I encourage parents to think about the strengths that their child has rather than focusing on weaknesses,” Dr. Ari Yares, a licensed psychologist and parenting coach in Potomac, MD, says. “By focusing on strengths, parents can start to see the uniqueness of the child.”
He advises parents to find an activity that brings out their child’s strengths and to participate in that activity with them.
“You may have wanted a basketball star, but going to a painting class or an art museum with your artistically-oriented child will help you see what is special and unique about them and draw you closer,” Dr. Yares advises.
Additionally, try to find some common ground with your kid. Odds are there are at least a couple of activities that blend your interests in some way, shape, or form.
Lastly, parents should aim to provide their children with a supportive environment in which they can feel comfortable and confident to explore, grow, and play in. Listen to your kids, understand their needs, and allow them to discover the things they love and connect with.
Every child has their own unique, distinct personality. Let them show you who they truly are.
Looking for ways to help motivate and encourage your child? Here are 10 Tips for Developing Healthy Self-Esteem in Your Child.