Decoding Your Child's Behavior

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Knowing the difference between temperament, child development, and child behavior makes a world of difference when figuring out how to parent your child.

nanea hoffman sweatpants and coffee

Understanding Child Behavior Isn't For The Faint Of Heart

Understanding child behavior is not for the faint of heart. It's often hard to distinguish between what is developmental behavior that kids will grow out of and what is temperament. Being able to distinguish between the two can impact parenting tremendously. We invited writer and mother Nanea Hoffman to take HelloFlo and VProud's Master Class Decoding Your Child's Behavior and reflect on her own experiences with temperament and behavior below. Decoding Your Child's Behavior is taught by Dr. Mann, who has been a parent educator and family therapist in New York City for more than 30 years. The class is filled with research-based practical tips on raising pre-adolescent children to be confident, empathetic human beings. Nanea's thoughtful essay reveals the trickiness of learning when to accept our children's behavior as is—temperament—and when to use behavior as a springboard for a teachable moment—development. Take a look at what Nanea took away from the class and see if her wonderings and insights match your own.

—The VProud Team

understanding behavior

Learn The Difference Between Behavior And Temperament and Make Your Parenting Toolkit Explode

By Nanea Hoffman for VProud

I’ve always found the sacred work of parenting to be a heady mixture of guesswork and guilt. I never know if I’m doing it right or not, and I’ve lain awake many a night convinced that I have failed my offspring in one way or another, or at the very least, that I’ve given their future therapists loads of material to work with.

Raising humans is a terrible and wonderful responsibility, and no one even checked to see if I was qualified before I got the gig. Imagine, then, my relief at learning that children are born with certain innate temperaments. That even as newborns, they are in possession of their own unique responses and preferences. I didn’t make my son and introvert, and I’m not failing as a parent because my daughter has picky eating habits that would seem to indicate she expects us to poison her at some point.

I found it tremendously liberating to realize that not only were these traits built into my child’s nature, but that it was not my job to try to change them. What I needed to do was observe and accept, and then parent accordingly. Not that that’s an easy task, but parenting to my kid’s temperament is so much more effective than trying hopelessly to alter it. For me, the latter would be like constantly being surprised that my cat doesn’t bark because I refuse to admit that she is in fact a cat. Which is to say, utterly ridiculous.

In the children’s novel A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Mrs. Whatsit tells Meg, “Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.” I can look at my children this way. 

The temperament is the form – these are the parameters we have to work with. My daughter reacts easily to stimuli. When focus is needed, we reduce noise and activity around her. My son expends energy during social interactions. We give him time and space to recharge. I’ve come to realize that this sort of acceptance teaches them to accept themselves and to understand what they need in order to successfully navigate the roiling seas of school, relationships, and responsibilities.

Maybe my children won’t lie awake at night wondering what is wrong with them. Maybe they’ll understand that they are perfectly fine exactly as they are, and that they can work with the nature they were born with rather than against it. My hope is that they feel seen and heard and loved.

About the author: Nanea Hoffman is the founder of Sweatpants & Coffee. She writes, she makes things, and she drinks an inordinate amount of coffee. She is also extremely fond of sweatpants. She believes in love, peace, joy, comfort, and caffeinated beverages. Her work has appeared in Role/Reboot, The Washington Post, and Modern Loss.  Join Nanea on the Decoding Your Child's Behavior discussion on VProud.

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HelloFlo & VProud's Master Classes 

This post is part of a brand new partnership between VProud and HelloFlo to solve the Dr. Google problem. Stop wasting time with Dr. Google and get your important health and parenting information from best-in-class experts. Details about our Master Classes can be found on HelloFlo.

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