One of the primary ideas behind the Childhood Affirmations Program is to give parents skills they need so they will make fewer mistakes. Because we all have the opportunity to change and grow in the seventh stage of life, we still have the opportunity to discover what we didn’t learn about parenting when we were growing up, or haven’t yet learned as an adult. None of us is perfect, we all have a growing edge, some rough part of our personality that may be getting in the way of parenting well. The good news is that it’s never too late to learn.
That’s why I hope you’ll check out the Strategies for Raising Resourceful, Resilient, and Compassionate Children, which I developed after my children were raised. I hope your learning curve can rise more sharply than mine did.
If parents divorce when a child is two-months old, that rupture in the fabric of the family will leave a different-sized hole in the life of a child than would be true if the child were four, or ten, or eighteen. The same is true of stresses on a family that occur because of a major loss, such as the loss of a job, the loss of a house in a flood, the death of a sibling or a parent. Both the event itself and the age of the child when the event occurs will impact different children differently.
Similarly, a parent who had been a full-blown alcoholic, and then entered a recovery program and turned his life around, will have a different impact on his children depending on their age (as well as their temperament, of course, since some will be naturally more sensitive to his change in behavior than other children will be).
Children Help Choose Their Role in the Family
It seems to me that one of the most significant influences in creating different children in the same family comes from the fact that we all have two basic psychological needs; one is the need to belong and the other is the need to be special. When the first child is born, the temperament of that child will help determine the role she plays. For example, if she is naturally easy-going and eager to please, her parents are likely to talk about that trait, which reinforces it, since she receives positive attention by continuing to do what she is temperamentally programmed to do anyway.
Let’s say she then has a little sister who is naturally a bit more excitable and inquisitive, causing her to be told “no” a lot and to get into trouble. When the first child is then referred to as “our compliant child,” both children can discover a role for themselves that sets them apart. The first by being “good” and the second by being “not-so-good.”
There are other combinations, of course. There is the child who is referred to as the “sports enthusiast” in the family and the child who is “our quiet scholar.” Each role brings a distinction to that child, even though the characteristics that set him or her apart aren’t really that significant. But the perception of everyone involved perpetuates a label that gives each child a feeling they aren’t like their brother or sister. They are special.