Valuing Your Child's Individuality

I know I have often written about the importance of nurture to the point that one might be forgiven for thinking that nature plays only a small role in the way our children develop. If you’ve read John Medina’s book “Brain Rules for Baby”, you will know that it’s actually 50% nature and 50% nurture. So although we do have considerable control over how our children turn out, there is at least 50% that is beyond our control.

I have found that the benefit of having a second child is that he reminds you about that 50% you can’t control. Without my second son, I would probably still be living in a deluded world believing that I played a bigger role than I really did in shaping Gavin into the person that he is today. No doubt, I influenced him to a degree, but there is a lot in there that is all him and I’m really proud of that.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the differences between both my sons and speculated about the reasons for it. I find that the older my second son gets, the more I realise that he isn’t just different from his brother, he’s the polar opposite of his older brother.

  • Gavin developed his verbal skills quickly, Gareth was always more physically inclined.
  • Gavin has always been very sensitive over everything, Gareth bulldozes his way through things without even realising they are there.
  • Gavin was always very cautious, Gareth is fearless and adventurous.
  • Gavin was always very shy around new faces, Gareth is gregarious.
  • Gavin screams because he doesn’t want to eat, Gareth screams because we don’t feed him fast enough.
  • Gavin’s least favourite person is his grandfather, Gareth’s most favourite person in the world is his grandfather.
  • Gavin hated putting things into his mouth, Gareth can’t keep anything out of his mouth.
  • Gavin could sit still, Gareth struggles to sit still.
  • As a baby, when Gavin started fussing, his fussing would continue to escalate until he puked all over himself. That was one of the reasons why I was always highly strung on days when I took Gavin out on my own.  When I was pregnant with Gareth, I remembered those days and suddenly felt extremely apprehensive.  Luckily, Gareth has proven to be a lot easier to console.

Another example to illustrate their extreme differences I have discovered at dinner is that with Gavin, in order to get him to eat fish, I would have to hide the fish in his rice (not that it was very successful because Gavin’s just too sensitive); with Gareth, I have to hide his rice behind the fish in order to get him to eat it.

They have nothing in common. Even their appearances are opposite. Gavin has hubby’s hair but he looks more like me. Gareth has my hair but looks more like hubby. Yet for all their differences, they both have their strengths and I am grateful that they were born in the order that they were born. Gavin, for all his extreme fussiness as a baby, has demonstrated the qualities of being a terrific older brother – which appears to be in alignment with what Medina wrote in Brain Rules for Baby: sensitive babies tend to be naturally more empathic and this is probably because they are so sensitive to their environments. Gareth, on the other hand, despite his destructive tendencies (at 1 year he has broken more things than Gavin has to date), takes everything into stride much more easily which helps me as a mother trying to juggle a child and a baby.

It has been said that parents will always have favourites – a child that they find themselves better able to relate to – no matter how unbiassed they might desire to be. I can honestly say at this point that I have no favourite, although I cannot vouch that this will be so when the boys are older. I do believe it is important to look for the qualities in both children and to focus on them so that we remember what is special about each child no matter how annoying their other traits may be (and boy can they get annoying!).

As for sibling differences, there is an article highlighting three theories to explain the differences between siblings:

  • Divergence: which is to minimise direct competition between siblings.
  • Non-shared Environment: which talks about the differences in environment between siblings although it appears they are growing up in the same environment – this is especially valid for siblings who are quite a number of years apart.
  • Exaggeration: which talks about a family’s need to make comparisons and inevitably exaggerate differences even if they are minor. For example, Suzie and Stacey may both be extroverts but because Stacey is less outgoing than Suzie, she is referred to as the introvert in the family.

Personally, I don’t think any of these theories explains the differences between my two boys, but I do feel that their individual differences gives me more unique reasons to delight in each of them.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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