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Friday, 02 January 2009 11:30

Beloved Stranger - Page 10

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Ryan at 25 is still very reserved and can be hard to read. But his calm has served him well on the baseball field and in emergency situations working as a medical technician. He still has to work at extending himself beyond his comfort zone to communicate more. And yet despite his seriousness, he has a wonderful sense of humor.

Recognizing and honoring a child's temperament allows you to go with the flow better and work with the situation that exists, rather than to try to make a child into someone else. Learning how to accept and work with a child's temperament requires time and attention, but, ultimately, can make everyone's life easier

Our society is quick to judge and want to "fix" unusual behaviors in children. More than likely, these children will exhibit certain personality styles for life, and parents will need to adjust their parenting styles to fit. This is a hard truth for many parents to accept. Initially and periodically, they may need some time to grieve and rant and rave about how hard their daily lives are with their puzzling, infuriating child, who's probably nothing like the child they hoped for. A big part of parents' adjustment rests in the kind of support they get and the skills they're taught for handling the daily challenges with their child. This is what we, as therapists, can give them.

There's no "cure" for temperament, nor should we want such a cure. Perhaps we get so accustomed to looking for a diagnosis that we lose sight of how variable normality really is. As therapists, we can help families make sense of their personal experience, even when it doesn't match preconceived ideas of how things should be. Our society has become increasingly intolerant of behavior that strays beyond familiar norms, and too inclined to diagnose, pathologize, and medicate what are simply temperamental differences. Our field needs to help parents recognize the variability, richness, and sheer capaciousness of the hard-to-define category we call normal. n

Alice Shannon, M.S., is a family therapist who specializes in temperament-related issues. She's in private practice in Arcata, California. Contact: Letters to the Editor about this article may be e-mailed to

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