Focus on the Family

What Contributes to Personality Clashes

Not all personality clashes result from opposite personalities between parent and child. Here are other factors to consider.

by Laurie Winslow Sargent

What about when you and your child share traits? While it is typically easier to understand a child who is like you, similarities in personality can create its own set of problems. If you are aware of shared traits, you may feel mixed emotions when your child displays weaknesses you struggled with as a child, such as stubbornness or impulsivity. Your heart may be in the right place — you want to prevent your child from making similar mistakes — but beware of overexaggerating a particular weakness and unfairly labeling her. Remember, she is not you, and you are not her. Telling her "You are just as stubborn as I was as a kid, and boy did that get me in trouble!" may not be helpful.

On the other hand, you may unconsciously share a trait with your child and then wonder why you have so much conflict. Remember that two strong-willed people can butt heads like mountain goats. Two talkers may argue endlessly. Two flighty people may distract each other.

Classroom issues

Sometimes your child's personality causes conflict with people outside your family. In a group setting, such as a classroom, all members are often expected to cooperate in the same way. A high energy, distractible child can complicate life for his teacher, who may be trying to engage an entire group of children in a math lesson.

A kid who is different from the rest of the crowd may create a frustrating learning environment for himself, his teacher, and fellow students. However, if he is placed in an environment that better matches his learning style, his frustration level is likely to decrease or even end.

Behavioral issues in context

You may have different expectations for your child when you're away from home. When a little whirlwind visits relatives, she risks breaking Grandma's favorite vase. If she jumps across the floor of her aunt's upstairs apartment, she may risk annoying the downstairs neighbors when their ceiling starts shaking.

Sometimes issues are only issues in context. My child Elisa's personal motto, "Why walk when you can jump?" creates no problem in our own home and goes largely unnoticed except when she wants to jump down stairs five at a time instead of two. But whenever we stay overnight in a hotel room, my husband and I are suddenly sensitive to every little leap and stomp. After all, it's our responsibility to be sure other people aren't disturbed. I turn into a nag.

At home, a child's constant motion and chatter can distract Mom or Dad from getting tasks done. Even if Mom eventually gives up trying to balance the checkbook so she can take her youngster to the park to burn energy, she's likely to feel she's shirking her duties. But in reality helping her daughter find an acceptable outlet for her energy is Mom's responsibility. Understanding the source of frustration can go a long way in helping Mom do that.

When your child is stressed

When a child is stressed, his strongest character traits tend to be magnified. When a child picks up tension in the household, revealed by his parents' increased nagging, a rushed schedule, or expressions of anger or tears, he is likely to react in a way that gets their attention.

A sensitive child will become more hysterical (or more withdrawn) than usual. An active child may become even busier, perhaps even acting out-of-control; a strong-willed child will likely become more defiant. Again, understanding that your child is simply reacting to the environment rather than setting out to annoy you may help you better cope with and address unwanted behavior.

When you feel extra responsible

High-energy and overreactive kids are often difficult for adults to handle simply because their caretakers feel the burden of assuming extra responsibility to keep these kids from harming themselves or others. For instance, hyperactivity and clumsiness in a child can make for a dangerous mix, turning observers into nervous wrecks. 

Tantrums are especially common among kids who are assertive, sensitive, and who struggle with transitions and verbal expression of feeling. Of course a hungry or tired toddler or preschooler may blow at any time as well!

But the reality is that many parents experience struggles like this on a day-to-day basis. They feel guilty that they don't always like their children — although they do love them. Such children may eventually mellow and find better ways to deal with energy or feelings of sensitivity or frustration. In other words, they may lose the need for other people to control and take responsibility for them as they do this for themselves. Again, just taking the long view may help parents cope in the meantime.


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