Author: Luisa Perkins
•11:20 AM

Today's topic comes from the brilliant Bub and Pie. She said she'd been trying to write a post about the fact that children are not all the same, but hadn't been successful, so why didn't I give it a go?


Bub and Pie consistently produces posts full of THE most insightful observations on children, parenting, literature, and life. Often I'll finish reading her daily offering and wonder how on earth she did it. She is a Bear of Very Big Brain. So if she feels frustrated by a topic, I'm betting my chances of success in the endeavor are roughly slim to none.

But rules are rules, especially when they are self-imposed. The NaBloPoMo Scavenger Hunt must go on.

I have five kids, so take it from me: each child is unique. Each is motivated by different things; each has his or her own challenges. Right now, for example, we're trying to potty train Daniel. He's happy to go in the toilet when we ask him to, but he hasn't yet progressed to self-initiation.

Always before, I've had a baby around to give the training child a concrete contrast. I could say, "James is a baby. He wears diapers. But you're a big boy; you wear big boy underwear and go in the potty." Somehow this ploy isn't nearly as effective when the baby I reference belongs to a neighbor and not to our household.

The prospect of being able to sport Superman, Batman, or Spiderman underwear doesn't motivate Daniel in the least. Promising a reward of a gummi shark is slightly more effective, but only when he's hungry.

I've always been a fan of letting kids train themselves when they are old enough, but Daniel is almost three and a half. My timetable is looking better all the time. Today Daniel has been walking around with no pants on at all. So far we've had success, but we're going to have to leave the house at some point, and it's cold out. We'll see how it goes.

I've taught my older four kids to read. Each one has approached breaking the code in a slightly different way, though I've used the same system for each. Hope is a visual learner; Tess is much more auditory. James looked for systems and patterns in the ways words were constructed; Christian relied on memorization. The amazing thing is that they all have strengths and weaknesses, but they all were able to figure out how to do it, and how to do it well. The older three are all reading far above grade level, and Tess is making great progress.

It's a rule in our house that every kid has to learn how to play the piano well enough to play the hymns at church; that's our minimum requirement. (We don't have paid pianists or organists, or paid clergy, for that matter, at our church; all the members take turn pitching in to help where and when they can.)

So once each child is reading well, they start piano lessons. Christian has been taking lessons for almost seven years; James for four, and Hope for two (Tess will start in January). They've all had the same great teacher who has used the same instruction books with them; they all practice for roughly the same amount of time each day. But if I were to put out a song that all of them could play with ease, then leave the room, I could tell which one sat down at the piano just by listening. They each have a different touch, an individual default of expression. Their very different personalities come out in their music, making the song as individual as a fingerprint.

(I should add here that Christian can play the hymns well, and regularly accompanies the singing at church meetings. The tricky twist is that once you can play hymns, you're good enough to play a lot of other cool stuff, too, and the begging to quit ceases almost completely.)

I love that my kids all have strong and distinct personalities. It never gets dull around here, I can promise you that. It's a fine line to walk between valuing their individual strengths and pigeonholing them; I try to remain open to change and growth and surprising new developments with them all, because I don't ever want them to feel trapped under the weight of my expectations.
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On 5/11/07 , Kimberly said...

Fabulous post...very insightful. I can't wait to watch my girls grow and see how they differ from each other. The older they get, the more apparent the differences become. It's fascinating.

On 5/11/07 , Stephanie Humphreys said...

We have the same piano lesson rule at our house. It is kind of funny to watch the kids work so hard to learn a few hymns, all the while not realizing they can play so much more.

On 5/11/07 , anjmae said...

It is true that children tend to get pigeonholed according to their strengths. I remember being labeled as the "tomboy" or "jock" as a youngster--you were the "smart one" and Steph the "artist". I think now that that was extremely limiting, although sports were my salvation as a teenager. But we are all "smart" and "artsy" and, yes, athletic!

On 5/11/07 , NH Knitting Mama said...

Luisa, thank you so much for this post. It really made my day better.

We have been hoping that our son (almost 4) will start using the potty on his own. He does not self-initiate, either, but will go everytime we bring him.

I, too, have enjoyed watching him come into his own, and have always felt that letting him do things in his own time is the best way.

On 5/11/07 , Melissa said...

Well, you know my special boy wasn't trained until VERY recently. After trying treats, big boy underwear, and small gifts, we found the naked thing worked well (you may remember seeing the little naked guy). Long t-shirts maintained a semblance of modesty, and we limited him to wood floors for the few days that it took.

On 5/11/07 , Josi said...

I think potty training is a crock made to make mother's feel inept.

I've sworn it off and with my last two waited until they begged me to take them out of diapers (my son was 4 1/2 and my daughter was 3 1/2) they never had accidents

Not that I have strong feelings bout it or anything.

And I agree each kid is so different. It's one of the quintessential elements of parenting, being 'individual' with them. Great post!

On 5/11/07 , dawn said...

Wonderful post, and so true how they are all different. I have 4 who all learnt to read differently. J looks at the shapes of words and memorized. She started reading just before 7 and was reading and comprehending at a grade 6 level in months. T didn't read until 10 and reads at level now, but likes it. He learnt by sounding out every letter, which didn't work for comprehension. C read after 7 and did a combination or recognition and sounding out. She is my best writer and has such flair. Z is 10, started reading at 9, and still struggles with it. Her personality is so different from the others, and I know that her difficulty in reading is due to her some of her personality strengths, or the could be strengths if she uses them for good.

Piano is the same in our home, I can tell who is playing by the flair and emotion as well as the level for some.

On 5/11/07 , Mary said...

PIGEONHOLING!!!!! We just learned about that in English! How awesome. I love when I learn something and then it pops right up in real life.

On 5/11/07 , Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Actually, I think one of the signs of a great parent is to grow all kinds of different children. Lovely post!

On 5/11/07 , bubandpie said...


There are not many things that make me feel tempted to have more children, but the prospect of all the comparing of personalities, all the categorization and contrast! It's appealing.

Bub turns four a week today, and we're no closer to toilet training than we ever were...

On 6/11/07 , Brillig said...

Gosh, it sure would help if you could manage to add another baby to the mix, for Daniel's potty-training success. :-D

This post is just one more reason to think you're amazing. I love that you're so involved with your kids and their lives. I love that you are in tune with them enough to really notice and understand their differences.

On 6/11/07 , Anne Bradshaw said...

I really enjoyed this post. It never ceases to amaze me how not only each one of us (and our children) are different, but also everything around us--even snowflakes! How incredible is that?

Oh, and there's an early Christmas gift for you, Luisa, and everyone who wanders over to my blog today. Enjoy!

On 6/11/07 , Radioactive Jam said...

Amazing how the similarities and differences all manage to make the treasures valuable beyond measure.