Opinion

Finding different parenting perspectives | Parenting

We have all seen them – those optical illusion pictures in which we first think we’re seeing a woman’s head. But wait, now we’re looking at a vase of flowers.

Our children are like that, aren’t they? Just when we seem to have found the perfect technique for whatever is going on with that child, everything changes. Even the way we talk and feel about our children changes.

I am reminded about this as I look at one of my favorite parenting books. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka has given us "Raising Your Spirited Child," a guide for parents whose child is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent and energetic.

Even her title lets us know that there are many ways to look at our children. She uses the word “spirited” instead of “difficult” or “strong-willed.” And even though her book’s title specifically mentions children who are “more,” I find that the philosophy of her approach is valid for all children, all parents and all caregivers.

For example, Kurcinka shares an exercise from her parenting classes. Adults quickly jot down words describing things that their children do that drive them crazy. The list might include words like demanding, loud, picky, unpredictable, wild or stubborn.

But let’s look at this like that optical illusion mentioned above. Kurcinka asks us to look at these labels as “strengths that are being overused.” “Demanding” can become “holding high standards,” after a child learns to become a little more tactful. “Picky” can be seen as “selective,” and if you think ahead to teen-age years, what parent doesn’t want a child who can be very selective about choices? An unpredictable child can become a “flexible, creative problem solver.” A stubborn child can turn into someone who is assertive with a “willingness to persist in the face of obstacles.”

The thing with labels is that they are a kind of short hand. When we hear a particular word, it gives us an instant preconceived idea. In addition, when we think of our own selves as a label, we start to believe it and act like it. How do you feel about yourself if you hear that you are stubborn? How do you feel if someone says you are tenacious?

Kurcinka offers many real-life scenarios with practical and positive suggestions. The emphasis is on shifting our perspectives to gain new information. It is on looking ahead to what will help your child become a successful, productive, contributing participant in life.

Anyone who comes in contact with children can benefit from this encouraging perspective. I have read this book many times and still get inspired when I randomly open it to a section and read just a few pages. The book inspires me to be curious about what makes others tick. I want to see what strengths others offer. I want to figure out how I can encourage others to feel confidence, success and respect. And I want others to see into my world, too.

Carolyn Wirkman is the Director at Kirkland Preschool which offers early education where children learn by doing.

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