Parenting by Design

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If you have more than one child, I’ll bet it didn’t take long for you to realize no two are alike—not even twins! Children are a lot like snowflakes that way, which is one reason why parenting is filled with challenges and surprises.         

With our five, my oldest and middle children are the most practical, dependable, and task-oriented. My number two, almost in direct contrast, is free-spirited, idealistic, and independent. Number four, my most introverted and introspective, is also the deepest thinker. Number five is a pronounced people-lover and loyal friend.

By temperament, I’m most like my number two. My husband is laid-back and methodical. All seven of us complement each other in a number of ways. So, you can probably imagine some sparks we’ve had over the years because of our different personalities.

That’s why understanding our children’s (and our own) unique wiring is so important.

Just because we’re shooting for the same objectives for each of our children (e.g., character, education, spiritual formation) doesn’t mean we should necessarily use the same methodology. Kids vary remarkably in their needs, reactions, communications, and behavioral styles, which impacts how they respond to us and to the world around them. Because parents vary in these same respects, too, every parent-child relationship is equally distinctive. Understanding this and using it to your advantage will be key to your parenting effectiveness.

When we treat all of our children the same (or expect them to be like us), and fail to customize our parenting based on their unique needs and motivations, we set ourselves up for an inevitable fail. All too often, when parents see negative behavior, their knee-jerk reaction is to tighten control— grounding, loss of privileges, or restriction of freedom. Or, we increase our input level and turn up the volume. Nagging. Yelling. Belittling. Criticism. What do all these accomplish, other than to drive our children away from us?

Instead, try becoming a student of your child and find ways to honor his/ her unique, God-given design. Rather then persuading, coercing, yelling, grounding, criticizing, or controlling, try adapting your communication to your child’s unique style.                  

My husband and I learned this midway through our parenting career, when we were introduced to a personality assessment model that greatly enhanced our ability to understand and communicate with our children (and each other, but that’s a different story!). It’s called the DISC® model. That’s not to say there aren’t other great personality assessment resources out there, but this is the one that really helped us in our parenting.  You can take a free version of the DISC test (and have your kids take it, too) at Trust me; it will be revealing!

Children don’t always know that everyone (including their parents!) is not wired like they are. It’s incredibly helpful to teach them to identify their own strengths and weaknesses that come with their nature—and to be honest about your own. This kind of understanding is a strategic item for their life skills toolbox that will serve them well in their relationships—with you and with others.

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Arlyn Lawrence is the mother of five grown children, a veteran of 14 years of homeschooling, and the co-author of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, and What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead (available as a leadership and life skills curriculum for teens in standard and Christian editions). Arlyn and co-author Dennis Trittin speak and provide resources for parents, teens, educators, and mentors about building “life literacy” in children and young adults. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter!