Working with the Differences in the Personalities of your Children

Your children are not all the same. And your parenting needs to reflect that.

Each child has a different personality structure and different inclinations, different strengths and weaknesses, and needs.

This translates to more work for you as the parent: more focus on the distinctions between your children, more perceptive observation, more thoughtfulness in your parenting strategies.

It would be easier if the kids were all the same and parenting was one-size-fits-all.

But it isn’t.

One of my kids has a hard time apologizing when he’s made a mistake. Another apologizes too much, when he hasn’t done anything wrong.

One of my kids likes to push boundaries and ask a lot of questions about why things are the way they are. Another kid is a strict rule-follower, not worrying overly much about the why of the rule.

One of my kids likes to know the reasons for everything. Another kid doesn’t care as much and is content with knowing simply that this is the principle.

Years ago, this difference between their personalities would often be demonstrated for me, even when the kids were much younger.

For example, during our homeschool Quran class, when I’d teach the kids a new ayah in the surah they are memorizing, one boy would routinely stop to ask more detailed questions about the tajweed rule I had briefly mentioned. “Mama, why do we have to show the Nun (ن) sometimes and not other times?”
“It depends on the letter that comes after the Nun,” I’d answer. “There are six letters that, when they follow the letter ن, we had to show the full sound of the ن. We call this in Tajweed: إظهار, idh-har, or showing/ clarifying, as you’ll study more when you’re older inshaAllah, ” I reply.

“Which six letters?” my son would ask, curious about the rule and how it works.

Simultaneously, my other son would groan in annoyance, and chide his brother, “You are making the class longer! You’re holding up the reciting! Mama said she’ll teach us the exact details when we’re older, not now! I want to play after we’re done with Quran class and your questions are making the class longer!”

The curiosity of one child ignited the frustration of the other.

This has to do with the differences in their inherent qualities ways of understanding and personality traits.

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It is our job as parents to note these differences between our children and be aware of each child’s unique makeup so that we can tailor our parenting strategy to fit each child. As parents, we are responsible for adequately meeting the needs of each of the children Allah entrusted to us.

Meeting the needs of the first child may not look identical to meeting the needs of the second child, or the third, or the fourth. We have to make some adjustments in the advice we give to each child, due to that child’s particular needs strengths, and deficits.

Secondly, it’s important for us as parents to explain the reality of different personalities to our children, so they themselves don’t get frustrated or angry with one another due to differences.

Some siblings go through their whole childhood and adolescence assuming that they are basically twins with their sibling, especially if the two are very close in age.

But close in age doesn’t mean close in personality.

The trouble emerges in adulthood, when the two siblings are both grown and one of them looks up and realizes how different they really are from one another, in life choices, in aspirations, in marriage or childrearing practices. And this difference seems like it came out of nowhere, just materialized all of a sudden. One sibling may turn on the other and accuse him or her of changing like it’s a crime.

The siblings probably did change, both of them, as they grew older and more mature. But also: they had been different all along, even as children. But they hadn’t been very aware of their distinctions, so their differences feel always like betrayals when they are adults.

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The way I’ve explained this to my children is through examples from the prophetic seerah and the lives of the Sahaba, رضي الله عنهم أجمعين.

After the Battle of Badr, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم asked his Sahaba for their opinions about what should be done about the prisoners of war.

Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه was of the opinion that they should be ransomed and returned to their families in Makka.

Umar رضي الله عنه , on the other hand, was of the opinion that a much stronger message ought to be sent about the military power and strength of the fledgling Muslim ummah, so each of the Sahaba needs to kill his kin amongst the prisoners of war.

The prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم then said about these two very different opinions:

Abu Bakr is similar in nature to ‘Isa and to Ibrahim, عليهما السلام. And Umar is similar in nature to Musa and to Nuh, عليهما السلام.

Different personalities exist and this is perfectly fine. We just have to work with each of them.

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Bilal Rauf

Wonderfully article, beautifully articulated. “It would be easier if the kids were all the same and parenting was one-size-fits-all, but it isn’t” This is a fact I wish asian parents knew.

Rabeya Siddiqua

It’s so true, Subhan Allah! Prophet sallallahu alaihi wasallam recognized and cherished the differences of his companions throughout his life. A very important lesson for us as muslim to learn from his (S) example. I am, as a parents of six, struggle with this often and find myself saying something that one way or another put down one of them. I beg Allah to give me the wisdom and guide me so I can bring them up as the best human being who pleases their Lord with their words and actions. May Allah guide us all to be the best parents. Thank you for this wonderful article, it’s a great remember for me specifically.