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Karen Brennan
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all children are quirky

Sunday, October 13, 2013

All children are quirky, says Kim Payne.  We all are, really.  This is one of my favorite parts of the book.  Kim gives a formula, q+s=d, which means quirk plus stress equals (in extreme cases) disorder.  He gives several examples of how this might look.  A child who is a doer, with continual stress might become hyperactive.  A feisty child, one who stands up for herself or her friends and for what is right might slide into oppositional defiance disorder.  It is normal to slide back and forth along this spectrum.  “Just as stress can push children in one direction, the reverse is also true.  When you really simplify a child’s life on a number of levels they come back... By dealing with normal stresses, children (and adults) develop ways to cope.”  One thing he doesn’t write about in the book, but he has spoken about, is that these same quirks that can slide into disorders can go the other way and become the child’s gifts.  I learned about this in my own adult life.  I went to law school and then went on to work for Legal Aid, intending to help people in need.  I am sure that I did, but I am a person who doesn’t like to argue and this work was very stressful for me.  I like to bring people together, to create beauty and harmony.  I realized that while these were my challenges when I was working as a lawyer, these were my gifts and I needed to find the right setting for them.  Kim Payne does warn us of the dangers of harmony addiction in this section.  Trying to protect a child from all stress, hovering over them and trying to prevent them from facing any challenges is also a form of stress, for both parent and child.  We don’t need to seek out difficult situations, but we don’t need to avoid them at all costs either.  Harmony comes through resolving the dissonant chord rather than not playing it. 

We hear a lot about building emotional resiliency in children.  Payne compares building emotional resiliency to building a healthy immune system.  Just as the immune system needs to be exposed to bugs and viruses to get stronger, he says, so the child needs some stress to build emotional resiliency.  “By overprotecting them, we may make their lives safer (that is, fever free) in the short run, but in the long run we would be leaving them vulnerable, less able to cope with the world around them.”  I find this to be a difficult subject.  There are not clear guidelines; we have to find our own balance of what is enough and what is too much.  “The central struggle of parenthood,” according to journalist Ellen Goodman,  “is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears.”  Through observation of ourselves and our children, through talking to supportive friends and family, and through being willing to make mistakes and learn from them—avoiding being addicted to perfection, too—we can create a healthy life for our children.