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Getting to Know You
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, March 2012

Gertrude Lawrence, in the role of Anna, played what was to become one of the most famous teachers in Broadway and movie history. When she sang the magnificent Rodgers and Hammerstein lyrics to "Getting to Know You", she was sharing with her students that they were all "precisely her cup of tea." She was "getting to know what to say - because of all the beautiful and new things I'm learning about you, day by day." She was a caring, curious, warm and open teacher, speaking to her students.

As parents and grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles we have a lot to learn from Anna, as we "get to know" family members who are different from us in temperament, style, appearance, ability, intelligence, humor, personality, and sensitivity to the world. This process of "getting to know you" can be a lifelong challenge filled with angst or it can be an amazingly exciting and interesting adventure, allowing ourselves to be open to the possibilities of not only getting to know our family member, but in the process, getting to know ourselves in ways we never knew possible.

It is a wise and caring person who remains open to the wonders of loving someone as they are, instead of who we "need" or "expect" them to be. Looking at the world through the other person's eyes, and learning how they process what comes their way, forces us to see the world from their perspective. Yes, we feel challenged, and sometimes, uneasy. Also yes, the other person feels validated. We need to remember that we don't have to give up who we are. We just have to be open and willing to let the other person be who they are.

In some cases this can be quite challenging. Alexander Thomas, Stella Chess, Herbert Birch, and associates in the 1950s spoke of temperament types and match between babies and parents. As children grow it is essential to be conscious of how and where your child's temperament is like or unlike your own and respect your child's uniqueness without comparison to other children or people you know or be on a mission to change your child.

Parents do best when they can adjust their own responses when they clash with their child's natural responses. All children need to have things explained to them especially when their "take" on the world is different from the adults in their lives. Since everyone needs to be valued and appreciated, we all need to pay close attention to our children's points of view and engage them to help us find solutions to situations. You will be surprised that they will create a way of dealing with an issue that you may never have considered. If you think your way is the only way, you will never have the opportunity to grow with your child. This does not mean that you don't have the right to have boundaries, limits and rules that work for you and your family. Everyone needs to develop self restraint and self control. It is just easier if you know you are respected for who you are and how you see the world. Focus on strengths and remind each person in your family that differences are to be celebrated. As a parent, grandparent, or other family member, be the best you can be.

Remember the children are watching you so be a good model as you interact with people in the world, as you care for yourself and others, and as you encourage people in your life to reach their fullest potential, even if their road is very different from yours. Walk along their road with them with your mind, eyes, ears and heart open. It can be quite a journey.

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