When Personality Differences Lead to Difficulties

By Laurie Winslow Sargent
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Understanding how personality differences may cause you to be irritated with your child can go a long way in helping you overcome frustration and effectively correct your child.

Have you ever felt a sudden flash of annoyance when your child’s behavior doesn’t match your expectations? Perhaps she looks down and says nothing when a friend of yours greets her. He may wander off as you look at paint samples in the hardware store. Maybe she giggles during the entire theatre performance. At such moments, you may not enjoy being with your child very much. Yet simply understanding the source of your irritation can go a long way in helping you overcome frustration and correct your child effectively. The first step is realizing that personality clashes can occur when:

  • opposite personalities conflict
  • similar personalities annoy one another
  • behavior doesn’t meet expectations or suit specific environments (say Grandma’s condo or a rigid classroom)
  • an adult feels extra responsible for controlling a child
  • stress exaggerates strong traits

When opposites clash

You may not always be patient with your child when she displays inherent personality traits, especially if they are directly opposite from your own. If you are quiet by nature, a nonstop chatterer may annoy you, no matter how much you love your child. Conversely, if you are sociable, you may lose patience with a shy, quiet thinker who has trouble expressing feelings and thoughts. A child with a strong inborn sense of fairness coupled with a strong will may want to debate every issue. That may drive you nuts — especially when half the time he is right.

Consider how you and your child differ in terms of persistence and attention span; activity level; sensory threshold; mood and intensity of responses; approach or withdrawal; adaptability; and regularity. It’s easy to see how problems can arise if you and your child differ in these areas. Perhaps you can relate to one of the following examples:

Persistence and attention span: You want to hurry to the grocery store. Your child, slowly and deliberately insists on tying his own shoes, wait, just let him make that loop … very slowly … then, oops … start over. Or you want your child to stick with and finish the project she insisted you do together, and now she’s wandering, daydreaming, already clamoring to do something else.

Activity level: You are exhausted from work and want to relax and read Winnie the Pooh to your child. He wants to roller skate, hike, bike, go, go, go! If you’re the one with a high activity level, you may spend an entire morning fruitlessly searching for the perfect outfit for your daughter to wear in an upcoming family portrait. When you tell her you’re willing to drive to another mall to continue the search, she may burst into tears and say she just wants to go home.

Sensory threshold: You barely notice sounds, smells, or the textures of fabrics. She incessantly overreacts to neck tags and other such dreadful stuff. You think she’s hysterical.  She thinks you’re insensitive. Or maybe your child drives you crazy by making loud truck noises as he pushes his monster truck across the kitchen floor while you’re at the table trying to balance your family’s budget.

Mood and intensity of responses: You are emotionally expressive. He’s hard to read. Getting him to tell you what’s going on in his mind is like pulling teeth. Or perhaps your child becomes hysterical over a scratch that doesn’t even bleed, and you want to say, “Just get over it!”

Approach or withdrawal: You are outgoing and the life of every party. You’ve got to drop your child off at preschool and run some errands, but your child is shyly, stubbornly clinging to you. Or you may be a little shy and your child charges up to strangers, forcing you to interact with them when you may not feel entirely comfortable doing so.

Adaptability: You’ve set aside a day to swim and play at a new water park on your family vacation. When you pull off the interstate and into the newly paved parking lot, however, you discover that the park hasn’t officially opened yet. Though you’re all disappointed, you can’t understand why your son is still sulking late that afternoon while the rest of the family is having a blast building an ornate sand castle at the nearby public beach. If your child is the more adaptable one, however, he may be the one to suggest going to the beach while you’re angrily composing a letter in your head to the magazine that said the water park had opened the previous week.

Regularity: A friend calls and invites you to the mall for lunch. Frustrated, you tell her no. Though you’d love to go, you know that if your toddler daughter doesn’t eat or sleep at exactly the same time every day she becomes an emotional mess. Perhaps it is you who likes predictability. Just when you get used to working during his naps he changes his schedule again. Then he quits napping altogether and you wring your hands. When will you ever get your work done?

Can you see how personality differences can lead to big conflicts with your child? As I’ll point out over and over again, just being aware of how your personality traits are different — as well as alike — can help you maintain your cool.

Taken from Delight in Your Child’s Design published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2005 by Laurie Winslow Sargent. All rights reserved.

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