Monday, 17 March 2014

Goodness of Fit

The modern wave of temperament research was started by Thomas & Chess, and they introduced the idea of Goodness of Fit. In a nut-shell, the concept is that particular children's temperaments will be better or worse suited to the environment that they find themselves. In the West, a "difficult" temperament -- high activity level, emotionally volatile -- is not particularly well suited to the way that we raise children. In one of my all-time favourite studies, researchers found that during a drought in Saharan Africa, the "difficult" babies survived whereas most of the babies with easier temperaments died. Alright then, there may be an evolutionary advantage to all that screaming, especially in cultures where attachment parenting is the norm. (To be clear, I can think of few things worse than walking around with a baby strapped on my person -- shivers.)

Anyway. Yesterday Harry and I had our first rock-climbing-at-Rottingdean-beach trip of the season. It was lovely. My camera is broken, so the photo above isn't mine, but you get the idea. Very English rocky coastline. It brought back memories of the summer when Harry was 2-1/2. We were at the same beach with a group of mum-chums who all happened to have girls. The girls were playing with stones while their mums sat chatting. I spent my time running after Harry, trying to prevent him from killing himself by clamouring up huge boulders or running into the sea. I cried a little that afternoon. It was exhausting. 

It has got a lot easier. But our combination is not a perfect fit. I’m not a slug exactly, but I don’t move unless there’s a reason. I love my sedentary job, and an evening of House of Cards with my knitting is my idea of a good time. Harry, on the other hand, is in constant motion. He isn’t one for watching the telly, but when he does get sucked in, he watches standing up, jitterbugging around the living room. He bounds out of bed in the morning raring to go. He often runs around the house screaming for no discernable reason. When I describe (complain about) this sort of thing, people often say that all kids are like that, or at least all boys. I felt so validated when Harry’s keyworker at nursery confirmed that he was the most active child there. In fact, he was the most active child they had had for several years. 

I do find it helpful to be aware of my children’s characteristics in relation to those of their same-age peers. Not to judge or shame -- or perhaps worse – to brag about their accomplishments, but to have this understanding so that I can adjust their environment and experiences to suit their individual natures. Many people have observed that having a young, active child can feel like having a dog. They need to be taken out for a run-around every day. Well, in the case of my very active boy, he and I were often the only ones at the playground before 7 am. And back mid-morning. And again in the afternoon.

All that said, I wouldn't change Harry's nature. He has enabled me to be a lot more active than I otherwise would have been. And like so many traits that can be intensely irritating in children, Harry's energy level will stand him in excellent stead as an adult. I'm actually rather jealous.

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