It doesn't take long for parents to realize that each one of their children is different. Not only are they different from each other, they are not a reproduction of yourselves either. They are uniquely their own person. Even though we know that we sometimes fail to parent with that knowledge well in hand.

Each child comes with his own talents, temperament, and abilities. We can't lump them all together and teach them, as it were, in mass. Of course, there are some exceptions, like teaching table manners, honesty, kindness, faith in God. But even those overriding virtues will take some individual application for most children to fully understand them. Not all kids learn at the same pace nor are they all on the same level of learning when we teach the family as a whole. Moreover, not all of them care about what we care about. For this reason, we need to know our children as individuals.

Three questions

To help you really get to know your children we encourage you to try this experiment. Close your eyes and picture your most challenging child. Focus 100 percent on that child at this moment. Then ask yourself these three questions:

1. What is he or she interested in?

2. What does he or she worry about?

3. What is her or his fondest dream?

Your job as a parent is to find out the answers to these questions. Not just for your most challenging child, but for all of them. When you know what interests your child, you have a far greater chance of helping her or him succeed in life. You may be interested in gardening, or running a marathon, or a myriad of other things that your child couldn't care less about. Pay attention to what your child's interests are.

An example

To illustrate this point we'll share a story about a woman who grew up on a farm. She had several brothers. Being a farmer was a dream come true for her father. He took great pride in his farm. His sons were needed to help make the farm thrive. Most of them enjoyed working with him and learning about farming. However, one son could not stand it, and it showed in every chore he did. One day, after this boy messed up terribly in the way he plowed a field, his exasperated father came into the house, slammed his hat on the table and said to his wife, "He's worthless! He can't do anything right! He has ruined that field!"

His wise mother, sensitive to the interests of her son, calmly but firmly said, "Not all our sons were meant to be farmers. This one is an artist." Her husband listened. To his credit, he helped arrange for this boy to take oil painting lessons, one of his fondest dreams. His mother helped him find a job in town painting signs for a company. He was thrilled. He still had a few chores to do around home, but no longer was he expected to be a farmer. As it turned out, this son became an accomplished artist and later worked as an art restorer for museums thus enjoying an occupation he truly loved.

When you discover and honor the talents and interests of your children, their lives (and yours) will be far more peaceful and productive.

What about the worries?

Parents can be completely unaware of the worries a child carries. And they do have worries. Do you know what worries your child? In a quiet time, when you sense that your child is troubled about something, take the time to sit with him or her in a private place, maybe with a cookie or two in hand. Ask questions without sounding authoritarian. Gently ease into conversation, talking first about what you know he likes, such as a recent game, or such. Then as he begins to open up you can say something like, "I have a feeling something is troubling you. Can you tell me about it?" He may resist at first. Don't push him, just say, "I'm here for you so please let me know when you're ready. I love you." Wait by his side a few minutes, just being quiet. If he doesn't open up say, "That's OK. Please come and talk to me when you're ready."

He or she may be being bullied at school, or are worried about failing a class, or are crushed by rejection from a friend. Be ready to listen when the time comes. If you open the door to such a conversation often enough children will feel safe in sharing their innermost thoughts with you. Let them know you are there to help them through difficult times.

A child of God

Reassure your children that not only are they loved by you, but by their Heavenly Father. Knowing this can help give them the confidence and fortitude to become their best selves. Knowing that you love them just as they are helps them discover who they really are: a beloved child of God with great potential.

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