The Emotional Struggle Of The Serious Child: Who Is The Parent, Here?

The serious child endears us not because of her charm or silliness but because she is five going on thirty-five! Heaven forbid you critique her knowledge or remind her of her youthfulness. She takes herself and the entire world very seriously. She is concerned, articulate and precise. She likes information, books and knowledge. Your struggle with your serious child doesn’t involve emotional outbursts and volatile behavior as much as it does re-establishing and revisiting the question: who is in charge here?

Serious children are often, but not always oldest children or only children. They are well accustomed to the company of adults and are pretty responsible. For whatever reason, most serious children are a bit more linear in their thinking so they take cause and effect seriously. If you explain to a serious child that his misbehaving actions will produce unpleasant consequences, the cause and effect, sticks in their memory. Typically, they aren’t impulsive. However, the serious child can hit adults hard with the intensity of their questions and their undying thirst for knowledge.

Most children and parents endure a “why” stage together. You say to your children: “Let’s hurry up and finish breakfast we have got to run errands today!” Child: “What’s an errand?” You: “An errand is something to take care of, like going to the grocery store or the dry cleaner’s.” Child: “Well, why do you have to take care of that?” You: “Because we do honey, we have to get food and pick up our clothes from the dry cleaner’s.” Child: “Why?” Sound at all familiar? The serious child experiences this stage more fully than any other type and it’s an intrinsic part of her personality. She wants to know they why, how and what of everything. Melt downs occur when these serious children don’t receive the kind of mental stimulation they desire or if they feel as though they are ignored or disrespected. In this sense, your serious child can be very sensitive even though they may not appear to be.

Because serious children do not readily get accolades from their peers (they aren’t social butterflies) and aren’t typically fun-loving risk-takers, adults must be careful not to overlook them. Of all the types, they are most likely to be labeled as quirky, nerdy, eccentric or strange. They thrive academically and one-on-one so acknowledge their skills and respect them instead of dismissing them. It’s easy for serious children to appear a know-it-all and this is understandably off-putting at best if not downright annoying. It’s the tendency of adults to put these serious children in their place: “You’re just a kid. Why don’t you go play in the dirt, or something?” especially if they are correcting you! If your serious child begins to feel like a critic or a braggart, begin engaging them with questions. For example, “You see those people walking their dog in front of the house? I wonder what kind of dog that is?” Serious children will readily transition from talking about themselves to talking about knowledge and are usually quite imaginative. In fact, helping them develop their imagination can hone other emotional strengths like empathy, which isn’t as accessible to them.

Even though it can be a challenge, serious children need the presence and attention of a focused listener. Not only will they call you out if you are giving wrote or generic answers to their questions, but they’ll work to usurp your authority since it seems to them you just don’t understand. The interaction between parent and serious child is less driven by affection and emotional connection than it is by respect and understanding. This can be hard for a more sensitive or fun-loving parent who would rather snuggle before bedtime than talk about birds, airplanes or foreign cultures. Since no child gets our undivided attention 24 hours a day, work to set aside time to connect with your serious child. Communicate the structure to him: “I know you are full of so many ideas and questions! I really look forward to talking with you and learning things together. After dinner, we’ll spend an hour together; I want you to show me your books and we’ll talk about: ______” Usually serious children have a particular topic, hobby or interest that is currently fascinating them.

Work to establish authoritative boundaries with your child without embarrassing him. Again, because the social experience of the serious, school-aged child isn’t overly affirming, serious children pick up on the fact that they aren’t “mainstream” in “kid-world.” The determined child is focused and “going for it”- academically, socially, interpersonally, etc. The fun-loving child makes everyone laugh and is a ringleader when it comes to having a good time. The serious child connects with people more over knowledge and intensity than she does small-talk or fun and games and frankly just tends to be less popular in her peer group. In this sense, I caution parents from putting a serious child in his place since it can truly be shaming. Instead, give him some leeway to talk or explain the things he’s passionate about and set time limits. Encourage him to ask questions of other people. Gently prompt him to shift topics if he’s becoming long-winded or a bore. When it comes to issues of discipline, curb all negotiation. Serious children are lawyer-like in their reasoning abilities. Let them know that not all experiences have thorough explanations, some rules and principles, including those of discipline, simply exist. Expect pushback, as this is a difficult concept for serious children to grasp.

Nurturing your serious child is full of intellectual adventure. They are your engineers, scientists, philosophers, writers, professors and inventors. They are usually quite smart, and while social and interpersonal dynamics can present a challenge, when their temperaments are understood and gently challenged, their opportunities are as vast as their imaginations.

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