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Should you, could you, would you try to change your child's personality?

(50 Posts)
MrsDistinctlyMintyMonetarism Tue 31-May-11 09:08:00

I love my dd(7) to pieces. She is my pfb and I would skin a lion for her.

But she is one of the world's most negative people and has been ever since she could talk.

I would love for this to be an exaggeration but I swear it is true.

One day we were having a picnic. Lovely day, nice picnic [smug] dc behaving. It was lovely. I made a comment about the beautiful blue sky. DD pointed to a very small cloud a significant distance away "But look at that big grey cloud Mummy, it will rain later." [head slap]

I try very hard to find the positive in stuff <ties on Pollyanna hat> as there has been so much research done about optimists living longer etc and although it was tricky to start with it has become easier (a habit, I suppose).

Before you all jump down my throat, I haven't tried to change her. She is still as melancholy and glass almost empty half empty as ever. My ds(5) is Mr Optimism on the other hand, which has it's own peculiarities!

It's a theoretical question, ok? Does your dc have a character trait that you see as undesirable? Have you tried to do anything about it?

pjmama Tue 31-May-11 09:27:48

I think it really depends on what the character trait is and what you mean by "change". For instance, I believe a shy child can be encouraged and coached to learn to deal with their shyness so that it doesn't hold them back, but nothing will ever magically change them into an outgoing extrovert. I think certain aspects of personality are just who we are.

I do see some things in my own children that perhaps I wish were different - one is proper bone idle and has been from being a baby! Another is terrified of trying new things and has to be handled really carefully, I wish for their sake that they didn't get so anxious about new situations, but it is what it is. They also have a million other things about them that are beyond wonderful. Getting to know our children and accepting them for who they are is just as important as any other aspect of parenting IMO.

Punkatheart Tue 31-May-11 09:28:05

She sounds sensitive but yes, veering on the negative side. Yes you can change attitudes - there are whole textbooks devoted to it. There is cognitive behavioural therapy etc.

My daughter is pathologically disorganised and untidy. It has affected her school career (losing books, not handing in homework etc) and our relationship. I help as much as I can but it is really really hard to change some behaviourly traits.

It is also important to want to change it for the right reasons - for the child. As you say, you would like your child to be 'happy' and 'sunny.' Why not sit down and have a very long conversation about how they look at the world? Examine the whys of their gloomy outlook. Just check if there are not depressed or more likely, just sad. Has there been a death in the family? It may be that the chemical that stimulates happy and positive thoughts is just not getting through.

None of us is happy or sad all the time. We need a balance. But you need to assess how much of your child's life is taken up with sad thoughts and work at a balance...

I am still working on helping my daughter organise herself. Very small improvements and she is happier as a result...

SunshineisSorry Tue 31-May-11 09:32:29

I get this - but she is who she is, she is bound to be a deep thinker and will probably go on to a very thoughtful career grin

Lots of things i wanted to change about DD1 when she was a teenager mind.

I would just ignore it when she makes negative comments, and make a big thing of the positives, i dont think you are trying to changer her personality by encouraging her to be more positive, im a very glass half empty person, bought about im sure by a mother who tried to terrify me at every opportunity she could with stories of woe and horror as to why i shoudlnt do things. I remember once she wouldn't let me go to lewisham because "they are all animals and they will chop your fingers off for your jewlery" err - okaaaay - guess where my DP comes from grin so far, my fingers are safe!! sorry, im digressing, but honestly, i think it would be good for you to encourage the positives, no one likes a grump.

CogitoErgoSometimes Tue 31-May-11 09:35:55

Oh yes. I'd love to change my DS's over-cautious approach to physical activities and also his mercurial temperament (everything's either terrific or terrible - no half-measures). Then again, his over-cautious approach means I'm not the mum down at Casualty every five minutes and his mecurial temperament means he doesn't suffer fools gladly. So maybe it's not so bad.

Similarly, a gloomy outlook can be very useful. If you go around being a rank optimist and thinking the best of people all the time you can be horribly disappointed or taken for a ride. If you tend to pessimism it can be modified to a healthy realism..... if pessimism means you carry an umbrella on a cloudy day, you're less likely to get wet.

ScousyFogarty Tue 31-May-11 09:38:48

MRSDISTINCTLY Its a good question I suppose most parents mould their children to an extent. Some radically so, especially competitive sporting parents; who may live their lives through their children. (And theatre mums in America who are daftly competitve.) Gabby Logan clearly likes moulding children to her way of thinking on sport... There is more than one view on competitive sport. )

MrsDistinctlyMintyMonetarism Tue 31-May-11 09:42:17

I'm feeling much less terrible now! smile

I do try to engineer situations where there could be a range of outcomes and we talk about the possibilities (sometimes it even works!).

She has decided either to become a vet or a doctor (oh dear god, the bedside manner potential) and I agreed those were great careers that she could achieve but would need lots of work as they are very important. She was quite pleased by that. confused

ScousyFogarty Tue 31-May-11 09:52:02

A general question for parents on this.

If your child had poetic tendencies; or writing tendencies; neither of which are (generall highly paid) would you try and persuade them to go into a highly paid profession; like say banking, prem football, rugby....

What I am saying is would you try and persuade a gentle child to become more competitive and aggressive?

It is by no means an easy question Middle class parents must experience it all the time.

lynehamrose Tue 31-May-11 09:56:09

Really interesting and thoughtful op

No, I don't believe we can, or should try, to change our childrens personalities. The fact that children from the same parents and raised in the same environment can have such hugely different characters proves that it runs much deeper than something you can mould.

However I agree that its a case of helping your child to recognise and manage their own character traits- so for example, if they are prone to being 'glass Half empty', you make a point of emphasising the alternative viewpoint, and also gently point out that other people may find it rather wearing to hear negativity all the time.

As with most things, children learn by example though, so its about showing them in your own responses rather than preaching at them.

Tbh on those occasions where you come across families whose children are all very similar in character, and where all the children seem to have the same interests, I'm always wary that they have been moulded too much and at some point will break out and show their real selves.

When I was little, we knew a 'model' family where the 3 Children were very similar, you could spot they were siblings a mile off and if you asked a question you knew you would get the same reply from Any of them. They all shared the same hobbies , all played musical instruments and were in the local drama group etc. 30 years later, my mother tells me they are SO different, and one sister has pretty much rejected the whole family thing and apparently rarely even visits the elderly parents or her siblings! They were so close as youngsters but looking back, I think they were very strongly moulded by the parents to be like that. I think true personality surfaces at some point

Jaspants Tue 31-May-11 10:02:29

Certain traits that impact on their behaviour then yes it is important to. For example, my friend's daughter is quite spiteful and defiant, she's young so gets away with a lot of her less desirable behaviour, however sooner or later another child is going to thump stand up to her.

Either that or she will not be welcome to play at other people's houses.

Neither outcome good, so my friend is IMO right to try to modify her personality.

wolfhound Tue 31-May-11 10:03:05

I think you're doing the right thing by trying to encourage positive thinking - a cycle of negative thinking can lead to depression in later life. One of my DS's was a very shy baby/toddler (I don't normally use the word shy since I think it's a bit stigmatising). I bought a book about helping shy children, and found that we were already doing several of the things it said. Now, at 3.5 he is really talkative to strangers, and keen to join in - I am really pleased as I think it will make school & life in general much better for him. I don't think you can (or should) radically change a child's underlying personality but you can definitely help them adapt their behaviour in ways that make them happier.

LyingWitchInTheWardrobe Tue 31-May-11 10:05:31

My Mum is like your DD, OP. She sees things in much the same way. I doubt that you'll be able to change that aspect of her personality because it's imprinted in her.

We had at least two weeks of sunshine and then it started raining and that was the first comment my Mum made about the weather. It's as if the pleasant side is the 'norm' and doesn't require comment, but anything that doesn't fit within her view of 'good' gets a comment. That's why she seems negative because those are her comments. It is wearing though and I get a bit fed up sometimes.

I think all you can do, OP, is counter that negativity with positive comments when whatever it is that your DD has commented on isn't affecting her personally.

Very interesting OP, by the way. Your DD wasn't born on a Wednesday, by any chance, was she? My Mum was.

kickingking Tue 31-May-11 10:06:02

I am/was a lot like your daughter. I wish I wasn't.

I don't think you should try to 'change' people, and to a large extent you probably can't anyway. But I think maybe you could try to steer her thinking in a more positive direction. I don't know...like maybe tell her that YOU want to think more postively and ask her if she will join you in keeping a postive thoughts journal? (I suggested this because I have done this and it does start to influence your thinking. Probably more effective if done from an early age?)

KatyMac Tue 31-May-11 10:07:27

ScousyFogarty DD is in to performing Arts; not matter what I do or say she is in to PA

I'd much rather she was an accountant; but I won't win at all; so I have decided not to bother

ScousyFogarty Tue 31-May-11 10:07:56

LYNE Most good writers seem to be pessimists and realists. I have notice women broadcasters go for glass half full philosophy; but I would ask: Are professional optimists able to be REALISTS...or do they just describe heavy rain as sunshine and queer the pitch of lifes realities.?

There is no definitive answer to that sort of question. But we can knock it abaht a bit. Please say something about the pushy american mums who push very young children onto TV....(Is that the American way?)

troisgarcons Tue 31-May-11 10:14:13

If your child had poetic tendencies; or writing tendencies; neither of which are (generall highly paid) would you try and persuade them to go into a highly paid profession; like say banking, prem football, rugby....

Slightly the reverse, mine wants to be a sports journalist - he won't cut the mustard as he doesn't have the literary vocabulary to write professionally. So I discourage that as a principle career - nothing to stop him writing part-time for a local rag - but he is not ever going to be a Sky Sports presenter in his wildest dreams! It's not attainable. He would however have the ability to get in through the backdoor route - by being a sportsman with personality, aesthetics and verbal vocabulary, like David Couthard, Ian Botham or Gary Lineker have done but he's too lazy! And of course he knows those breaks are few and far between.

Banking it is then!

ScousyFogarty Tue 31-May-11 10:16:43

Katymac, Ithink you are right. But some pushy parents push at a very early age

minipie Tue 31-May-11 10:24:29

MrsDistinctly from the example you've given, your DD sounds more argumentative than negative - perhaps she is only negative because she likes to argue with your (positive) view? Argumentative isn't necessarily a bad thing [lawyer emoticon]

In answer to the general question - I think the answer is that most parents do seek to influence their DCs' personalities, even through just "normal" parenting. For example it might be a DC's "natural personality" to be violent towards others. If you try to teach them not to be violent, are you influencing their "natural personality"? Yes. But you need to teach them not to do it anyway.

I suppose the real question is... where do you draw the line? Where is the line between "undesirable behaviour, need to teach them not to do that" and "personality trait".

LordOfTheFlies Tue 31-May-11 10:27:00

I have DD and DS and I never compare them as my mum used to do that to my sis and I and I hated it.
"Your sister is so tidy" - yes but I'm the one cooking dinner and tidying up , ( 13 yo approx)

DS is very laid back (horizontal) and has to be cattle prodded into work.
DD embraces her homework and usually does it when she gets it.
He does the bare minimum to get by but always does good( Could do brilliant if he flippin workedgrin
He isn't freaked by new situations, she's a dog phobic.
But she's more thoughtful,especially to smaller children.
She's tidy and looks after stuff.
She pushes herself and gets furious with herself if she doesn't do well.He's kind of 'whatever'

Each has good and bad but sometimes and like to take a bit from each and sprinkle it on the other one!

QuackQuackSqueak Tue 31-May-11 10:30:28

I would genty encourage her to look at the positives but I don't think that is necessarily changing her.

My DH is a negative person and I think it is something he has learnt from his dad who is also negative. Do you know of anywhere your DD gets it from? It seems to me that it's a habital way my DH thinks.

It's actually a bit disabling as it holds him back because the negative is his instant reaction. It has also led to depression.

exoticfruits Tue 31-May-11 10:36:05

You can try to encourage her, but you won't change her.

sausagesandmarmelade Tue 31-May-11 10:39:22

Made me smile that...as I know an adult who is very 'glass half empty'.

I would say...keep emphasizing the positives...and maybe eventually your dd will start to look for them too..

colditz Tue 31-May-11 10:43:14

Try following her negativity to it's 'logical' conclusions.

"There's a grey cloud over there, it will rain later"
Yes, and it might rain so much that we are swept out to sea! We would have to live in a whale and it would smell of fish and burp at us, and every time we had a bath, it would have to be in whale wee.

Now, my children would find this so very amusing that Ds1 would actually fall over and roll around on the floor (there phrase ROFL could have been written for him) and Ds2 would repeat it to everyone he met with accompanying guffaws. Your DD might not find it quite that funny, wink but it might cheer the mood.

And even if she grumpily says "That won't happen" you can just reply "No, it won't, will it? What's the very very worst thing that could happen? We'd get a bit wet on our way home and it won't hurt us."

LyingWitchInTheWardrobe Tue 31-May-11 10:45:08

colditz... I'm going to try that one with my Mum. grin

colditz Tue 31-May-11 10:49:27

PMSL I do it to my dad.

He once told me off for explaining how a syringe worked to Ds1. he hissed " Colditz, if he repeats that at school they will think you are a heroin addict "

And I replied Yes, they will, they will look at my well fed, well read children, and they will look at my ample frame, and they will conclude on no other evidence than my curious 7 year old's syringe fascination that I am a heroin addict who shoots up in front of my children. Or maybe they will conclude that I gave him some children's nurofen, which is also dispensed from a syringe. Now which do you think is more likely, that a seven year old has seen his mother shooting up heroin or that he was given baby nurofen at the weeken and enjoyed squirting water with the syringe?

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