But Aren’t All Kids Different?

One of the challenges of being a “parenting expert” is that you often find yourself arguing that one type of parenting is superior to others despite the fact that all children are, in fact, different and need different things.

How is it possible to do this?  Isn’t it over-reaching at best or hypocritical at worst to argue that one style of parenting is better than others while at the same time acknowledging that all families and children are different and need different things?   Well, not to get all Bill Clinton about it, but it kind of all depends on what you mean by “different.”

For instance, it is true that everyone has a different personality, but it is also true that, as different as we are, we all share a common humanity.  What we share ought to make it possible to say that certain things enable every person to function at his or her best regardless of our very real and important differences.

Let’s take the focus off people and talk about one of my other favorite things; ice cream (YUM!).   Now, ice cream comes in lots of different flavors, and those flavors are really important, but there are certain ingredients that make some brands of ice cream superior to others regardless of the flavor those competing companies produce.

In the same way, thanks to developments like interpersonal neurobiology (the science of how relationships actually affect the way our brains develop and function), which, since it is dependent upon neuroimaging, is more science than philosophy, it’s possible to say with some confidence that certain ways of raising children tend to allow those children to reach their fullest neuropsychological potential even while allowing for wide differences between personalities.

For instance, we’re able to see that being a loving, intimate, empathic, interdependently social person is what is actually normal for the well-functioning human brain–just, incidentally,  like the Theology of the Body says it is supposed to be.  Both Interpersonal Neurobiology and the Theology of the Body assert that every human being ought to be able to experience those qualities to the full because they are both essential and foundational to our humanity.  Personality then builds upon those traits in a secondary but still tremendously important way so that while each of us can be fully human, we can all still be “unique and unrepeatable” (to use a TOB term).

The point is, when I say that self-donative parenting approaches (aka Attachment Parenting) are superior to other forms of parenting, I mean no disrespect to the very obvious and real differences of each child that every family has to contend with.   What I do mean is that that this style of parenting is actually being shown–by neuroimaging studies–to best facilitate the formation of the brain structures responsible for the fulfillment of every child’s basic humanity.  Personality will develop on top of that.  Of course, parents need to be sensitive to the differences each child’s personality brings but attachment parenting strategies are more likely to give you the healthiest neurological/basic human foundation that allows you to raise a healthy, well-adjusted, well-formed, child regardless of that child’s particular personality traits.

Every child is different but regardless of those differences every child has a basic humanity that needs to be formed and nurtured.  I believe that the research from both theology and science show that attachment parenting practices are the best tools available to hel parents do that job.

About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.

  • tedseeber

    As an autistic, I strongly doubt the existence of empathy. When I see neurotypicals claiming to be empathic, they are really either being compassionate, or they are projecting their own feelings on to other people.

    I would also say all the neat theories of parenting go out the window when you have a mentally ill child, who is far outside the norm. I’ve learned this as a parent myself of a special needs 10-year-old-going-on-six-developmentally as well as being a special needs individual myself- my normal reaction to say, tough love, is a pathological level of passive-aggressive behavior (which is one reason why I’d rather take a pair of pliers and a quart of peppermint schnapps to my own mouth than visit a dentist).

  • Mom2many

    So here’s the issue…as a mom of 7…I was young,insecure, and inexperienced when I had my older children and raised them the way I was raised…very strict and more hands off. I know more with my younger ones, converted to the Catholic faith, and I try to be different with my older ones now (18&17), but it always pains me to read articles like this. Please give hope for those of us who weren’t the better parents when our children were young. Can a changed parent later in life heal some of what we may have done wrong?


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