Different Parenting Techniques for Introverted and Extroverted Kids

I was one of those mothers who’s firstborn child made her look really good.  My firstborn was (and still is) a really easy kid, sweetly introverted, and geared at pleasing.  As a matter of fact, my first two children were really easy.   When the second one came along and was equally obedient, polite, gentle, and brilliant, he confirmed my suspicions about the world’s greatest parent thing.

What I asked them to do, they did.  When I told them where we were going, they were excited about it.  When I told them to go to bed, they did without fussing.  They made eye contact when being introduced, were quiet when I needed them to be, and were flexible with my schedule.  They were introverts who enjoyed just being with me, without trying to drive the agenda.

And then my third came along.  He was different from day one.  He was born with opinions about everything.  He cared about when he ate, he cared about the condition of his diaper, he cared about who was holding him, he cared about the position of his head and how he was being held.  He wasn’t a cranky child, but just an extrovert that came into the world with ideas about how the world should listen to him.

He made parenting an adventure.

And then my fourth came along.  From day one, she ruled the roost.  She was a healthy baby, but from months 3 – 10, she cried constantly if she wasn’t being held.  And being that she was my fourth child and I had 3 others to care for, she wasn’t held all that often.  Those months were very, very loud.

If I thought that my third born had opinions, I found that I was redefining what that meant based on my fourth child.  My youngest came born to rule, and she let everyone know it.

Very early on in the life of my youngest, we realized that we had to completely relearn how to parent.  Things that I took for granted with the other 3 were now complicated.  Ways that I enforced discipline had to be modified.  Styles and tones of communication had to change.

Some people call kids like my 3rd and 4th strong willed.  I choose to say it is having strong opinions.  The difference to me is perspective.

Strong willed has been portrayed as negative.  A strong will is just asking to be broken, to be put in its place.  It is a challenge to the authority of adults and must be taught who is boss.

But I believe that the opinions, leadership, and strength of a classic strong willed, extroverted child are gifts that will lead them directly into the will of God.  If we break them, sideline them, or communicate how frustrating they are, then we are running the risk of destroying the very gift that God has placed in them to accomplish things greater than we can imagine.  Their passion, emotion, stubbornness, etc are exactly the kind of traits that can be used in radical ways – and I want to be able to step back and know that I did nothing but encourage and shape those gifts.

My two extroverted kids are the spice of our family.  Their ideas are never-ending, their spunk is enlightening.  They have motivation and drive to accomplish anything to which they put their minds.

However, they also need to be parented differently than my two that are more compliant and introverted.  Every strength in our character/personality has an opposite side to it, and the opinionated kids among us are no different.

If you have an opinionated, extroverted child, you know that:

 - While they have the potential to be great leaders, they have a tendency towards bossiness.
The most opinionated of my children has the capacity to be the strongest leader among us.  She can walk into a situation, assess what needs to be done, and then with ease assign tasks to people.  What a gift!

And yet, as the youngest of four, she has no one to lead.  When she walks into a situation and starts assigning tasks to her older siblings, they look at her like, “Umm…who do you think that you are?  Do you realize that you are YOUNGER than me?!? ”  They are quick to remind her that she has no authority to be bossing them around.

Without the maturity of tact and relational skills, leadership becomes bossiness.  With no one around to train a young leader how to be tactful and strategic with people, they will grow up to be the condescending, tactless boss that we all know.

I believe it is my role, as her mother, to train and develop those tendencies within her.  It is my job and privilege to help my gifted daughter to temper her strength with character, patience and love.
* * We do that with many reminders throughout the day.  From a very young age, I have found myself so very often asking her to take another shot at whatever she had just said, saying it in a different, more loving, tactful way.
* * We practiced communicating kindly.  In non-stressful situations, I have had her practice phrases that would be more tactful options, and I have had her work through various circumstances where she could either jump into a situation and take over, or jump into the same situation and lead tactfully.
* * We found places for her to practice her leadership gifts (she became a teacher’s helper at dance class, for example).

 - While they are able to express their opinions with great passion and emotion, they have a tendency to be moody.
My two younger children walk in extremes.  I have often said that when there are tears, you don’t know whether they just stubbed their toe, or cut the whole toe off.  The emotions are the same for either situation.  If you cross their wills, even if it is just a simple command that they don’t wish to fulfill, the emotion you’ll get is as if you just asked them not to save the world from a cataclysmic catastrophe.  It can be exhausting to try to reign in an opinionated child.

Once again, training kicks in.
* * We don’t overlook/ignore the emotional roller coasters, we discuss them.  Even as little kids with limited verbal abilities, we’d talk about where the strong emotion was coming from, and how they could manage it better.
* * We’d offer them tools to manage extreme emotion, such as, as little kids, jumping up and down, or as a little older kids, taking a few minutes alone to depressurize, reflect and pray.
* * We don’t let strong emotions bully us into changing our minds.  If the idea that an emotional outburst, or a display that they feel strongly enough about something, makes them think that they actually get what they want, then they will continue to do so without ever maturing and learning better coping skills.  We don’t allow for emotional manipulation in our home.

 - While they won’t settle for less than what they believe is right and just, they have a tendency to believe that everyone else is wrong.  

Unlike my more compliant children, my extroverted kids love a good debate. They love to take a rule and test the limits to see if it really applies to them. They love to see if you, as a parent, really mean what you say.  They are the toddlers who, when you tell them not to touch the lamp, walk right over to it, look you in the eye, and touch it.  As they get older, they are the kids that will take a boundary that you set and, without hesitation, will defiantly tell you that you are wrong or unreasonable.

While the other statements I previously made have been more about training the child, I believe this one is more about training the parent.
* * With an opinionated, strong child, you have to mean what you say.  You have to give direction and boundaries without hesitation, but don’t require something of this child that you don’t really feel strongly about.  The reason for that is that they will test you, cause you to question what you’re asking, and more times than not, will convince you you’re wrong.  If you’re  not careful, you will end up backing down on the majority of rules that you put in place.  Sometimes you’ll back down because you change your mind, but  more often than not, it will be because the requirement isn’t worth the fight you encounter.  On some days, this will be how you spend most of your day.
* * Pick your battles.  This is very similar to the suggestion above, but brings parenting outside of just the rules, and takes it to the specifics of your day.  An opinionated child can argue about anything:  whether they will wear their coat today, whether they want cereal out of the green or red bowl, whether they want their hair color to be green or red.  In each situation, decide whether or not this is a battle to be fought, or a situation to let go.
* * Offer them choices.  Choices where you can agree with either option.  Such as, “Do you want to wear the striped shirt or the orange one?”  “Do you want to ride with your leader, or do you want to walk home?”  Giving your child options helps them have an outlet for their opinions.  They will feel a little more in control of their lives, and you should have fewer arguments.
* * Find support for yourself.  Surround yourself with others who will either back you up on the stands that you take, or will be a source of encouragement and building you up.
* * Journal/write/be well rested/have you day well planned out.  Being organized, being at your best, and taking time to review your day are all helpful strategies to staying filled.  Being with a combative, strong child can be quickly draining, so you need to make sure you are ready and organized for each day.
* * Look for the delightful aspects of your child.  Maybe it is just me, but in the heat of a confrontation, it is easy to lose sight of the gentleness within your child.  It is easy to see your child as one-sided, as the one who makes life difficult.  Stop, take a break, and remind yourself of all of the beautiful things about that child.

 - In their weakest, most tired moments, or when they’re under stress, they tend to move into control.
I state this just so that you, as a parent, can be aware of it.  Most opinionated kids will become more bossy (controlling what others do), and more disagreeable (controlling their circumstances).  That doesn’t mean that you let all training slide, but it hopefully will give you understanding, that in turn will give you more patience, and therefore allow you to parent with more love.

I want to close with that idea that in our home, we place very high the value of knowing what our personality styles are and accepting each other for who we are.  We teach them that we were placed in this family together to make each other stronger, and that we are not to put down, belittle, or judge each other based on our weaknesses; however, we also recognize that we are not perfect, there are more areas of immaturity than maturity, and we don’t expect our kids to react lovingly every single time.  I hope that these ideas shared help you feel normal and give you some ideas on how to parent (and enjoy) your highly opinionated child.

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I left my newborn in a grocery store

So yes, I must confess:  I left my newborn in a grocery store.

Before you freak out on me and deem me a terrible mother, I should also say that it was my 4th (because that makes everything better…:-) and it wasn’t for very long.  This same child locked herself in our car when she was 2, in the middle of a Texas summer, while we  searched the neighborhood for her. She thought the idea of playing in the car was fun and climbed back into the car when noone was watching.  (I’d guess the temperature inside the car was about 120 degrees.)  This same child also walked off from me in a huge shopping mall the last few days before Christmas when she was 5.  Security was called, we all frantically looked for about 40 minutes, and were 5 minutes away from locking down the entire mall when someone spotted her and returned her to me.  She is, and has always been, a very independent thinker.

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Of course, that doesn’t explain me leaving her in a grocery store.  I just shared all of that to free some of you up from the grip of perfectionism.

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On the day in question, she was probably 2 weeks old and it was the first time I was venturing with all four of my kids to the grocery store.  Admittedly, I was quite distracted.  My  hands were really, really full.  So full, in fact, that while I had come in to the store with my hands very full, I left with my hands still very full – just not quite as full as they should’ve been.

I approached checkout, set my daughter in her car seat carrier in the next checkout lane over to free up some necessary space, finished my transaction, and walked out.  It wasn’t until I got to the car, having secured my other 3 kids in their seats, that I counted.  Yep – I was missing one.  I ran back in, very discreetly picked her back up, and walked out.  No one had even noticed.

As parents, in spite of our best preparation, reading up on all of the latest theories on parenting, things happen.  The baby that you eagerly anticipated for 9 months won’t stop crying.  The bliss that was supposed to be the first few weeks of your child’s life is shrouded with postpartum depression.  All of the great advice that you’ve been given fails the first time your child looks at you and says, “No!”

I’m not advocating a cavalier, carefree attitude towards the supervision of your children, but even with the best of intentions, mistakes happen.  Let’s free each other up to have honest discussions of what we’re going through, and strip the veneer of perfectionism.  I am so far from perfect – and yet my kids have survived, are respectful, love each other and love their dad and me.  And this was achieved in spite of the fact that I might’ve, maybe, possibly, occasionally left my children unattended in public places.

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Confession: Labor and Nursing May Not Go As Smoothly As You Expect

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The go-to book for pregnant moms for a decade has been What To Expect When You’re Expecting.  I had it in my newly created parenting library during the years that I was producing children.  It is so much fun to try to connect with the development of this little life as it is happening, instead of having to wait until birth day to see what has been cooking inside.

However, one of the drawbacks of this book is that at the same time that it logs day by day the development of your baby, it also logs all of the things that can possibly go wrong.

If you are a mom that dwells on fear, you have to selectively read that book, drawing out the things that spark your imagination and faith, and skipping the parts that provide a feast for your fear.

There are so many great resources out there to help moms-to-be have great experiences with labor and the first days after having a baby.  Some are really helpful.  But some seem like they might have been written by people who don’t walk in the same reality that the rest of us do.  They promise things that I certainly didn’t experience.

My advice for labor is to put together a great plan for the delivery room that helps you be intentional about the experience that you’d like to create, but be willing to set that plan aside if things don’t go as you expected.  The goal of labor (besides having a healthy mom and baby) is to walk out of the delivery room saying, “That was awesome!”  For me, that meant fighting through the pain and fear and not using pain meds.  For others, it means walking in declaring that you’d like to be fully medicated/anesthetized.   For yet others, it means water birth, midwife-led, or home birth.  Whatever the case, remember that not all things go as planned, and emotional flexibility is really important.

And let me also say that for most people, nursing a newborn hurts.  It is valuable, the most natural and healthiest route for your baby (and for the new mom), but it also can be quite painful.  I certainly am not trying to be Debbie Downer, but again, I think that it is important to walk into the process with all of the information possible.  It might be a glorious experience from the first time your baby latches on, but odds are that it will be a bumpy road in the beginning, and that a lactation consultant will be your best friend.  Use their expertise liberally.

It is my opinion that our lives are neither about being perfect, nor avoiding pain at all costs, but about going through it, together, and finding grace for the experience.

(Image courtesy of imagerymajestic found on http://www.freedigitalphotos.net)

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Interruption – A Tribute

This week marks 3 huge events in my elder son’s life:  high school graduation, his 18th birthday, and his receipt of Eagle Scout.  I had to stop the progress of my little series on parenting to honor one of my own.

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As you might know, years ago I chose to homeschool my kids; therefore, I can speak from first-hand knowledge that this son was a fantastic student.  He is one of those students that never rolled his eyes in complaint about a subject assigned, he didn’t negotiate to get out of school early, he always had a good attitude, and he was very smart.  His main fault when it came to his education process is that he had such a full sense of humor that he was forever making us all laugh.  I can’t imagine school without him interjecting his humor and laughter to our process.

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Today this amazing young man turns 18.  He has been one of those kids that makes their parents look amazing.  He converses well with adults, being respectful and articulate.  He is inclusive of younger kids, being willing to step away from the grown-up conversations to help little ones feel special.  He is self-controlled and well-grounded when it comes to his peers, always making the thoughtful, responsible choices.  I couldn’t ask for anything more.

On top of all of that, he has recently earned his Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts.  Some of you may know how difficult and rare this achievement is; but very few of you know how incredibly difficult his journey to this achievement was.  Remembering that we just made a cross-country move, what that meant to his Boy Scout career was that the hours and hours of work that he’d invested towards getting his Eagle project completed in Connecticut was lost. He had to start over in Texas, not just on developing a new project and the myriads of paperwork and decisions necessary to see it through to completion, but also relationally, building respect and trust amongst his peers and their leaders.  Add to all of this that the troop that he joined rarely awards Eagles, and has never, ever awarded one to a transfer scout.  He has had to work and work to get things accomplished, he has had to swallow his pride when he was misunderstood, and has had to stretch himself well-beyond his comfort level to navigate complicated relationships.

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With the help of one exceptional scout/friend that committed his time and effort to seeing Josiah succeed, the contributions of those who believed in him and were willing to help fund his project, and his siblings who relentlessly cheered him on, he got all of the requirements necessary checked off yesterday.  His Court of Honor, where he will receive his award, is a few months off, but we in the family are celebrating this accomplishment.

So today, I stop to honor my son as he graduates high school, turns 18, and accomplishes his Eagle Scout rank.  Quite a bit for a day’s work!

 

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Confession: I didn’t bond with my baby right away.

As I discussed in my last post, there are myriads of definitions that parents have of what being a parent means.  The more experienced you are at parenting, the more you realized that those definitions typically don’t hold much weight when you’re staring the down the barrel of reality.

As I was talking with a mom-to-be friend of mine, I heard in her words several of the “good mom” statements that I had said myself, before I actually held any of my children.  I thought it would be a good use of time on this site to explore some of the most commonly held expectations and deal with them honestly.

Confession:  I didn’t bond with my baby right away.  Maybe I should restate that:  I loved my daughter immediately, but because of what I’d heard from other parents about the magical, instant connection between mother and child (you know the one…where heaven parts, the angels sing, rainbows descend into the hospital room, the baby looks dreamily in your eyes, and you instantly know what their every need is and how you should respond) didn’t happen with me.  In fact, I must admit that even after a few days of being trained in the arts of nursing, bathing, changing and swaddling this baby, I still brought home a virtual stranger.  I remember looking at my husband with the beginning edges of panic joining with my words as I asked, “What do we do with her now?”

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Over time, as I began to be able to read her sounds, create a workable schedule, and learned to appreciate the wonder of who she was, I relaxed and gracefully stepped into the long journey of parenting.

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Two and a half years later, when we repeated this process with my son, I found myself crying in my car one evening, terrified by the fact that I didn’t love both of my children at the same time.  At least that was the way it felt.  At times, I resented my new son for infringing on the special times that I was creating with  my daughter, and other times I resented my daughter for stealing time away from the pure joy of caring for my new baby.  I really thought I was either going crazy, or somehow lacked the “mother” gene that I was supposed to have to make room for more than one child.

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And what made it worse was that no one around me was talking about this phenomenon. I had no one to either commiserate with me, or put my mind at ease, and no one to tell me that I wasn’t going crazy.  In reality, what I really needed were the magical ingredients of time, fellowship, and sleep.

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I can only imagine what it must be like for moms who suffer with postpartum depression, or moms who adopt a child/children that take extra grace to bond with.

We’ve got to take down the walls of perfectionism and isolationism to reveal the healthy and normal varieties of experiences found in bringing our babies home, and rearing them through all kinds of situations.  We’ve got to be willing to be real with those around us so that we destroy the myths of the ideals that we expect.  Sure, there are some absolutely ideal situations that we experience with our families.  Those should be shared freely.  But with equal candor, we need to share the days that we find ourselves at a complete loss, the days spent in tears, and the days that it is only by the grace of God that we don’t climb into our beds, vowing not to get out until the kids are in college!

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Confession: I Really Wanted a Son

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I was talking with a dear friend who just found out she is pregnant with her first baby.  While she has initiated conversations about child raising in the past, the conversations have just gotten more desperate and specific.  The impending arrival of her bundle has brought a lot of insecurities to the surface.  What I heard in her concerns has been reflected in conversations I’ve had with many others over the years.  There seems to be a pattern of expectations on how the new mom will feel – how the new mom will function.  I thought that I’d do a little series on exposing expectations that we have as parents that aren’t talked about much in the mom circles.  The things that a “perfect” mom wouldn’t feel (or admit to feeling).

The first one:  I’ll be happy with whatever gender my baby has, as long as its healthy.

Beautiful, loving, and gentle sentiment.  To some it may actually be true; however, my guess is that more often than not, we have strong opinions/wishes/hopes of what the make-up of our family will look like.  We certainly wish/hope for healthy children.  And if we’re honest, most of us have hopes about how many we’ll have and what gender they will be.  We need to permission ourselves to have hopes, be disappointed as often as not, and to be honest about it.

So here’s my raw confession:  I really wanted the opposite gender.  I mean, really wanted.  As in, I cried when I heard that I was having a girl.  Sobbed.  I always thought having a son first would set the stage for the perfect family.  My husband would be the world’s best dad to a son, and this perfect boy would step into the natural responsibility of being a great, protective, and comforting big brother.  And then we had our little girl.  Of course, I loved desperately and deeply my daughter when she arrived.  She was an ornament in our lives, and the exact personality and gender that we needed to begin our parenting journey.

Did I learn my lesson?  Of course not!

When I found out that I was pregnant again, I once more had strong opinions about what gender should be next.  This time, I had imagined that having 3 girls would be the perfect family composition.  I was sure of it.  Convinced of it.  I had allowed my imagination to see myself floating through flowery fields with my 3 lovely girls, their golden hair flowing in the wind.  I would dress them alike, teach them the wonderful ways of femininity, and watch them share deep secrets amongst each other.

But a sonogram revealed a little boy’s anatomy which quickly burst my bubble, and had me bursting into tears yet again.

Repeat the scenario 2 years later when I found out that I was pregnant with my second boy.  Seriously, I cried immediately outside of the Dr.’s office after seeing a boy on the sonogram.  Not the pretty, serene crying that sophisticated people call “weeping”.  I grieved.  Ugly crying.

With each birth of these amazing babies, I was instantly smitten.  I was able to step back and bask in God’s wisdom for my family, snuggling with my three amazing children.  His ability to manage my life was and is indisputable.  They are irreplaceable and forever have my heart.

(When my 4th baby’s gender was identified, I didn’t cry.  That, however, wasn’t because I’d matured and had learned to control my expectations, but because I actually desired the gender that I was getting!  My eldest daughter had prayed for a baby sister, and when I turned up pregnant, I knew that we HAD to have a girl for her desires to be fulfilled.  When the Dr. told us that we were actually having a girl, I wasn’t sure how to respond.  I’d not once gone into a gender-revealing sonogram appointment and left with my expectations fulfilled!)

I’ll have to let someone else speak who has adopted children, but I’m sure there is an aspect of this to which you can identify.  I’ve seen and heard enough to know that not all things go as planned in the adoption process!

I felt like it was important to get out on the blogging world that it is normal to have hopes and wishes of what our family will look like.  It doesn’t disqualify us from being parents, nor does it diminish our ability to nurture and love these little offspring.  If you are a natural planner who likes things in order, there are a lot of things in your parenting journey that you will have opinions about, but that won’t be in your control.  We all have to learn that it is completely OK to have opinions, and it is also healthy to relax in His wisdom for the things we can’t control.

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Recipe – Lemon Drizzle Cake

I haven’t shared a recipe in so long on this blog because there is such access to great recipes via the internet, especially on Pinterest.  However, since I found this recipe and had to convert it from metric measurements, I figure that it is pretty safe that it hasn’t hit every kitchen in America yet.  It was one of those afterthoughts to a great meal that I made, but ended up taking center stage in both our tastebuds and memories.  I hope that you get a chance to try it, and end up loving it!

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Lemon Drizzle Cake

8 T. butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar, finely ground (meaning that you take regular granulated sugar and process it finer by putting it in a food processor or blender, or coffee grinder)
3 eggs
3 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
1 lemon rind, grated
1 2/3 c. self-rising flour
1/3 cup Almonds ground (You can buy almond ground from Bob’s Mill at most stores, but it is pretty expensive. I ended up putting almonds in our coffee grinder until it formed a powder.)

For the Syrup:
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
1 cup powdered sugar

For the Glaze:
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time, and then add in the lemon zest and lemon juice.  In a smaller bowl, blend the flour and the almond flour.  Slowly sift the flour mixture into your bowl and gently blend.  The batter will be on the thick side.  Pour the batter into a loaf pan and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.  Leave in the pan until it completely cools.

As it is cooling, mix the ingredients together to make the syrup.  While the cake is cooling, poke small holes in the top and pour the syrup over the cake, trying to aim for the syrup to go into the holes.  (I did this with a wooden skewer to get the holes big enough to take the syrup.)  Continue to let the cake cool.  When it is cooled, mix together the glaze and pour over the top.  As the glaze sets, you can sprinkle the top with extra powdered sugar for a little decoration.

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