How to accept your child’s quirks
Whether your child makes questionable fashion choices or has an obsessive fascination with ants, find out how to wholeheartedly embrace their idiosyncrasies and support their interests.
When my eldest daughter turned two, she developed what would be most politely described as an eclectic sense of style. She had no issues pairing a hideous fuchsia Dora the Explorer T-shirt with red polka-dot pants, fluorescent yellow socks, shiny black dress shoes and swimming goggles… to go to the park. I died of humiliation inside every time. “What will the other moms think?!” I cringed.
I tried to convince her to wear more “appropriate” outfits, but my spirited wild child responded with epic tantrums. She just wanted to be free to express her individuality via some very dubious fashion choices.
I wish I could say I shrugged it off and let her wear whatever she wanted. Nope. I spent months fighting with her over her sartorial faux pas and loudly declaring to anyone within earshot, “She dressed herself this morning, HAHAHA. Two-year-olds, huh?!”
I created a whole lot of unnecessary stress and tension in our lives because I feared judgment. And when my twins turned two, I made the same mistake all over again. But lo and behold, one of them is even more into crazy fashion than her big sister. She wears swimming caps with sweatpants and ballet shoes to the supermarket, for goodness sake! And if you try to stop her, you’d better be prepared for the wrath of Coco Chanel 2.0.
So, I finally had to LET IT GO. I now let my three daughters wear whatever the heck they please and I truly don’t care. It’s so liberating! And according to Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D., child psychologist and author of 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, second edition, it’s a good thing that I finally got there.
“It’s very important for children to learn the concept of having choices,” he says. We’re in an age where the exploration of many parts of the self is encouraged more than ever. At the same time, children need to learn that parents do get to set boundaries based on what they believe is healthiest for them. Allowing a child to choose from a few different outfits varying in style is good, but every parent has a right to set some boundaries within reason.”
When your child’s differences make them a target
Denver mom Tracy didn’t think her daughter Emma’s fixation with her blankie was a problem until kids at preschool started to tease her about it.
“She’d been carrying that blankie around everywhere since she was a baby, so it never crossed my mind that she should stop,” says Tracy. “But when I found out that some kids at preschool were making fun of her because she was still carrying it everywhere and sniffing it when she was four, it made me really sad. She’s an anxious child and it brings her comfort. I finally convinced her to leave it at home and the teasing stopped, but I do worry what other oddities will crop up over the years and make her a possible target for bullying.”
While it’s easy to worry about how your child’s quirks will affect them later in life, Dr. Bernstein recommends trying your best not to dwell on them. “Life goes so fast,” he says. “The best thing parents can do is remind themselves that the child they see at age four won’t be the same at age eight or twelve. And when children move further into their teens and young adulthood, the fads they went through and quirks they had are likely not going to mean a whole lot.”
Learning to embrace your child’s interests
Accepting your little one’s childhood eccentricities is good practice for the future. They’ll soon be expressing interests that may be wildly different from your own and you’ll need to embrace them unreservedly.
For New York City mom Maggie, accepting that her son turned out to be a bookworm rather than the sporty type like her was no easy feat. “I know that sounds terrible,” she says. “I’m a bit ashamed to admit I was let down. But I’d always dreamed of going on long bike rides and hikes with my kids and I realized that there was just no way that was going to happen with Joshua. I can’t peel him off the couch on a Saturday to save my life… he always has his nose buried in a book! It took me a while to come to terms with it, but now I’m so proud of how intellectual he is. He wants to become a writer and I know he’ll be amazing.”
Dr. Bernstein encourages parents not to impose their own hopes and dreams on their children. “We certainly don’t want them to feel that we pull their strings to constrain them to certain types of interests throughout their lives,” he says. “Parents need to encourage children to try many different types of academic and social endeavors. And most importantly, parents need to support children as they find their strengths and likely fall short at times while doing so.”
So, go ahead and let your child wear her swimming cap to the supermarket. Let him loudly sing show tunes in public. Allow your children to be whoever they want to be and tell them you love them just the way they are. Because if we don’t accept and love our children unconditionally, they won’t accept and love themselves. And that would be a much bigger tragedy than a pair of mismatched socks.