The Balancing Act: ‘She Is Competitive, I Want Our Kids To Be Relaxed’
Every other week, Sonali Gupta draws on more than 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist to answer readers’ questions about parenting, family dynamics, relationships, mental health, and more.
Push and pull parenting: My wife and I have very different parenting styles. She is very competitive and I want our children to be relaxed, enjoy the process of learning. Is there a solution?
Sonali: I can understand how this can be such a tricky issue. Our shared value system shapes the child’s personality. And when parents have completely differing styles, as in your case, it definitely creates scope for friction in the relationship and confusion in the child. What may be most important is not to expose children to the background anger. When children witness their parents are not on the same page regarding a decision, it impacts their sense of stability. With older children, this may even create more misunderstanding, as older children learn to manipulate their parents’ fights to their own advantage. So, choose not to discuss your disagreements in front of your children. (Read more about parenting as a team on The Swaddle.)
I would suggest that you and your wife have an open dialogue about what is, exactly, the shared value system you would like to teach the children. This should be followed by identifying, understanding and respecting the areas where each partner’s parenting style works best. Different situations may require different sensibilities. Keeping the child’s temperament and any unique life situations in mind, try and find a middle ground: It may be important to focus on how you can teach your children about passion, excellence, developing genuine interest and the joy of participation, rather than simply being competitive. At the same time, a too-relaxed approach to life can shape into complacency, so learning to engage and participate is a crucial balance. As spouses, choosing to listen to your partner, trust his or her instinct and understand his or her response will help you find this middle ground.
Ultimately, do not let this become a power struggle; let your joint parenting decisions be shaped by what helps the child grow holistically. Keep communicating and finding ways to make sure both your and your wife’s perspectives are heard. And remember there is no right or wrong parenting style; each style is shaped by the combination of a parent’s personality, a child’s temperament and various life situations.
Mixing up languages: When I ask my 3-year-old questions in French, she answers in English; when I ask in English, her replies are in French. When she speaks, she mixes the terms, both for English and French. She has invented this Frenglish, where she alternates between the two, which is very worrying.
Sonali: What you are referring to is very common among young children and toddlers who are exposed to two languages. It is referred to as ‘code mixing.’ Code mixing generally refers to instances where children use words from both languages in the same sentence. It is very normal for all bilingual children to go through this process. There is nothing to panic or worry about. But it is fascinating, so I’ll explain a bit more.
Psychological research shows that there are different reasons that contribute to this mixing, which sometimes leads to the creation of a totally new language. There have been specific names given to mixed languages; in this instance, it’s called Franglais or Frenglish. A child might mix languages for several reasons: He or she may struggle to find a particular word in one language, or is faced with a restricted vocabulary in another. Children may also do this as a way of modelling adults, who sometimes use a specific word from a different language to assert their point. This phase does not indicate any developmental delay or confusion in the learning process. So don’t worry; children can sense our anxiety, therefore it is important to be careful about how we demonstrate it.
In your particular case, I would wonder if your daughter does it also for fun. Children are very quick to perceive our reactions – not just anxiety – and possibly she uses the language to create a sense of humor. Remember, negative attention is also attention. It may help to observe if your daughter chooses to reply in a different language particularly with the immediate family. If so, it may be a mischievous way of practising her language skills and asserting her identity – an indicator of intelligence, not a delay.