“A butterfly has to break out of its cocoon and a bird has to claw its way out of the shell. They don’t get to the next stage of their lives passively.
Change is hard, but remember—anyone can change at any time.” —James Lehman, MSW
“Will my child ever change?” That familiar question, often asked by parents concerned about a youngster’s troublesome behaviour, used to elicit a disappointing answer. A few years ago, many psychologists believed that a child’s behaviour patterns were laid down early in life and that after the age of five, the chances for significant turnabouts were slim.
Today we know better, it is true enough, of course, that children are generally born with certain broad styles of temperament and personality. But despite such built-in tendencies, there are countless cases showing that kids have a greater capacity for change than was ever thought possible.
Indeed, from isolated patterns of behaviour in the early years, parents and professionals alike can’t safely predict what any given child will be like as she proceeds through the basic school years, let alone as an adolescent or young adult.
Change over time
Forecasts of a child’s future are chancy because the path of development depends not only on the child’s psychological constitution but also on the powerful effects of the day-to-day interactions he will have with the people and the happenings in his environment.
As psychologists Orville Brim and Jerome Kagan point out in their book constancy and change in Human Development, the consequences of the events of early childhood are continually transformed by later experiences, making the course of human development more open than many have believed.
There is a natural tendency for parents to be consumed by the events of the moment and to turn pessimistic about the future when a child is going through a tough time. But the passage of time can introduce remarkable transformations.
Influences outside the home
For example, many children who are beset by seemingly chronic insecurities gain self-confidence as they begin to form enduring friendships with peers. Poorly motivated and ‘lazy’ kids become achievement-oriented as a result of the inspiration of a magnetic teacher.
Dependent and ‘whinny’ youngsters grow to be self-reliant and in control as day-to-day competition-in the classroom or on the games field-impels them to mature.
Studies tracking kids from infancy to adulthood now show that the drama of human development can take surprisingly happy turns as young lives unfold.
The virtue of patience
An optimistic view of children’s potential for change is important not only of the morale of parents but for the youngsters themselves. We human beings tend to live up-or down-to the expectations of others, and that’s most certainly true of the interaction between parents and children.
Our own parents, themselves often frustrated by the behaviour of their children, used to overseer wistfully that what mothers and fathers need most of all is patience.
They were right. Child rearing may indeed require as much staying power as skill-plus confident anticipation of the gratifying changes that the forces of growth and maturity so often leave in their wake.
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