14 years of being who she is

So on this rainy-sunny September day my eldest daughter turned 14. Actually, the fact that it hails like mad outside right now suits her temper quite well. Sometimes it hails both inside and around her. It is much like I used to be, with a ball of fire lighting up in my stomach, shooting out of me, burning people and things in its way. I still throw the occasional bowl, but honestly, I check so it is a plastic one and throw it somewhere where it won’t damage anything. So there is really almost no point left in throwing things around because of all the planning and then the cleaning it takes.

But the temperamental trait, that ball of fire igniting, my reluctance for changes and new situations with lots of new people, and my need for some quiet, own time has stayed the same ever since I was an infant. I was an easy baby though, because my mother understood my needs and the current ideology of a very regular schedule for infants suited my rythmicity perfectly. Five years later, my brother had a hard time teaching my mother that not all babies are the same, but I think she got it after a while.

So when my daughter screams and shouts and gets overwhelmed when we ask more than two things of her at the same time, I have no problems understanding her. My poor husband just looks at me and says: “What wrong did I say now?!” Well, truth is, it’s not just the what; it’s the how, and the timing, and the weather, and the mood for the day that all adds up to ignite that fire or start the hail. But there are not only cons of having an excitable temperament, it also helps you take in the world through all your pores and helps you live more fully. So Fanny can create and play music and photograph beautifully or be absorbed in a book with cutting out the world completely. With experience and a respect for your own needs it is possible to make the best of any kind of temperamental trait. As a parent, your role is to try and accommodate your child’s temperamental needs and teach them how to tame some of the trickier implications of being who they are.

And you might as well start today because temperamental traits are extremely stable over time. The Australian Temperament Project (ATP) followed infants for 30 years. They found three aspects of temperament to be most important and also most stable: “sociability – the tendency of a child to be shy or outgoing in new situations and when meeting new people; reactivity – how strongly a child reacts to experiences and to frustration; and persistence – the extent to which a child can stay on task and control their attention, despite distractions and difficulties” (cited directly from the ATP website). These temperamental aspects also affect the person’s capacity to self-regulate, implying control over their feelings and behaviour, and ability for focused attention that is so important for learning.

The good news is that strong social skills, stable and warm parent and peer relationships, and good school experiences all influence how well children fare. So our job as parents is to help our daughter make the best of her reactivity – focusing on the important things and discarding irrelevant stimuli, to expose her to fun people where she can take advantage of her sociability, and encourage her persistence even on tasks that are not all that fun.

As for the fire and hail – those things will wear off some with time and the people who want to remain close to her will simply learn to duck. Until then, she has discovered that the pillows in the sofa serve her very well when she needs to let off some steam. I might actually try that next time my fire ball comes on, because we don’t have any plastic bowls here.

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