The Walters family has two sons, aged four and seven. These sweet boys look so much alike that I do a double take each time I see them. Their mom dresses them in matching outfits for holiday photos, and their parents hear a constant litany of how much they resemble each other.
But appearance is where the resemblance ends. Having gotten to know these two children, I can tell you that their personalities are nothing alike. Geoff, the elder, is quiet and studious. He’s a rule follower and a bit of a worrier. While he can laugh at a good joke, his outlook is generally serious and even contemplative.
Younger brother Ethan, on the other hand, is all fun, all the time. This free spirit lives for the moment, never worrying about what’s coming next. Less interested in early academics, he shines socially. He keeps his family and friends in stitches with his hilarious antics.
These parents scratch their heads at the obvious difference between their two boys, and wonder how two young children growing up in the same family can be so different.
And yet, this is a common phenomenon: two children growing up in the same home, developing personal styles that seem like polar opposites. “They may look alike, but they have completely different personalities,” is a comment heard by every early childhood educator who comes to know families.
Every time a family gains a new member, each person in the family is impacted. Roles shift to make room for the new member’s contribution.
If the family already contains a worrier, the younger child may figure out they could all use a clown. If the older child has the reputation of being a wild child, the next may figure out that she can shine by being the rule follower.
Children have far more sophisticated social skills than we imagine, starting even in their infancy. Very aware of their parents’ emotions and responses, they begin to form patterns of interacting which will gain reactions of delight rather than dismay. This new persona establishes them as bringing something unique to the family.
Whatever the cause, it’s a great thing for families that our kids don’t wind up clones of each other. Each member of our families learns to interact with all kinds of folks, living in this social laboratory of the family.
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