It was 8:00 p.m. and we nearly had a family riot. We had another 2 loads to move. I had said we’d only work until 8:00 pm. One child, said “You said we’d only work til 8:00 and it is 8:00.” Another said, “We were going to play a family game tonight and it will be too late if we do another trip.” This all started because the oldest demanded, “We are so close and must finish!” The last child was over on the grass making daisy necklaces and was fine with whatever. Luckily, no one threw a punch or shoved each other. There were a few tears.
How did we get such different children with such different perspectives?
If you have more than one child, then you know that each child acts differently, gets bothered by different things, and works on different types of projects. What drives these differences?
Their Life Theme drives their actions
All humans have a life theme. Our life theme is how we determine if we matter to the world, and to those around us.
You can identify your child’s life theme by filling in this phrase: “I only count in life when I ______________.”
How would your child finish the phrase, “I only count in life when I ______________”? Is it attention, finishing a project, getting all A’s, winning in football, creating art that people adore, dominating others, serving others, helping others, getting their way, or winning at video games, etc.?
Another way to find your child’s life theme is to imagine a social situation for your child, then predict what they will do.
For example, do they try to get the other kids to make beautiful art? Do they dominate the others til they are in charge of what the group is doing? Do they clown around until others pay attention to them?
Be honest. There are good and bad sides to many life themes. What is important is that you know what your child’s life theme is, so you can address it.
Your child’s personality forms by age 5. Let me say it again. By age 5, your child has developed his personality and life theme!
Your kid learns through trial and error to determine who they are. Be aware of what you are encouraging and discouraging during their trial and errors. As the parent, you have the ability to help develop the healthy aspects, and discourage the unhealthy.
If you ignore your kids, they will use negative means to get your attention, which reinforces the negative sides of their life theme. For example, one of our kids uses pouting to get Andrea to drop whatever she is doing and give her attention. The child has learned that Andrea has a soft spot for pouting and she exploits it.
How to help develop a positive life theme
- Figure out what their life theme is by noticing how they finish the phrase, “I only count in life when I ____________.”
- Use psychologic disclosure: Reveal to them what their life theme looks like and how their actions from it are positive or destructive.
- Tell them you are concerned about where they are going with this life theme.
- Have them take the next 30 minutes to think about it. Say, “I can’t make you think about it, but I am asking you to think about it for your sake.”
- After 30 minutes, ask them where they are think their life theme is leading them.
What type of adult will they be?
Also, consider what will this life theme look like as an adult. It might be cute or tolerable as a child, but likely to be destructive in a marriage or as an employee. Now is the time to address it.
Gratitude = Good Things
If you want to make sure your child develops the good side of their life theme, then teach them to serve others and develop a spirit of gratitude.
Notice the Good
When you see them do something positive, pull them aside and say, “I noticed you did XYZ. I bet that makes you feel good inside.” Use encouragement to reinforce positive behavior.
- Figure out your child’s life theme, by answering this phrase, “I only count in life when I _________________.” Also notice how they interact in social settings.
- Realize that by age 5, their life them is set. Be proactive now.
- Use the 5 steps listed above to help develop good life theme attributes.
- Teach them gratitude, so their life theme pulls to the good side.
- Notice when they do something positive. Use encouragement.
Used by permission of the author.