The Unique Individual In Each Child

Recently, I came across an interesting article by a parent and an educator about raising an introverted child who found her child’s temperament very different from her own and those of her “star children”. Instead of moulding her daughter to become something or someone she was not; the mother decided to understand, embrace and appreciate her “different” daughter.

Sailing in a similar boat, my three-year old has a temperament of his own that is very different from both his parents. He is an extrovert who has had this uncanny ability to strike an interaction with people of all ages, gender and race even before he could walk or talk. Our families like to explain this difference between him and us in terms of genetics or environmental influence. I believe that it is primarily a temperamental thing. Genetics and environment contribute to it but are not the main determinants. We are who we are because that’s what energizes us along our path to self-actualization. Introversion and extroversion are continuums and not isolated traits of which we display deferent degrees based on circumstances, interest, mood, etc.

As adults, parents and teachers, we want to see ourselves in others, hear what we believe in from others before we can acknowledge and interact with others. We find it bothersome interacting with someone who is different, in abilities, views, interests etc. As a society that is basically intolerant of differences, we decide that an individual’s natural temperament needs to be moulded in a certain pre-determined manner based on our perception of the ideal. For instance, I have often wondered why most schools have a uniform for students. The idea of homogeneity is so dear to us that we enforce uniform code of apparel but do not care whether the child dresses up smart or sloppy. Recently, I visited a prestigious boarding school in the hills where children have the liberty of wearing what they want, within prescribed parameters. All children that I met, fifty odd, were dressed smartly, decently and appropriately. It is about accepting and treating them as individuals not as collectives.

A child who speaks softly, reacts quietly to new situations and likes to learn by observing and not by overtly participating is frowned upon and pronounced slow or disinterested. Whereas a child who participates actively, talks loudly and responds quickly is branded bright. We as parents and teachers are prone to believing that the former needs to be educated and trained to become the latter; the more valued of the two individuals. Look at the teaching learning and assessment practices in our schools – how many schools differentiate the content or process or product to individualize education for students? Within the given school realities, good schools do it all the time, while others are busy making excuses to justify their actions.

Both at the micro level of an individual and macro level of a society, we need to let individuals be and empower them to be more of who they are within the realm of safety and security, rather than create pseudo-nothings or as my partner calls them “sab-janta-phools”. This is difficult work, time-consuming and iterative. But it is the only way to foster self-concept and mutual respect.