One of my boys is extraordinarily verbal and imaginative. He gets quite a bit of attention. Another boy is an adorable over-sized affectionate puppy. He gets quite a bit of attention. Lola, well, Lola is not suffering from lack of attention.
And then there is the middle son.
Concrete and physical. Ornery, stubborn, and competitive. Mischievous. Affectionate and helpful. So very earnest and expressive (body language more than words). Visual. Everything is at face value.
Unfortunately, many people only see his ornery, stubborn, mischievous, and physical side.
Each child has strengths and weaknesses. And there are seasons in each life when certain strengths or weaknesses are easier or harder to deal with. For the child. For the parent. For friends, family, or other adults.
Luke didn’t sleep as a baby. I came within millimeters of a complete breakdown. I was at my skinniest, most sleep-deprived, emotionally-frayed state in all my life. Even as a two and three year old, he had insomnia issues. He could be up for hours in the middle of the night. And he got into everything. He was (is) a daredevil. He didn’t communicate much (even though he had (has) one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen in a young child).
At the moment, however, he is my easiest child. He doesn’t make incessant noise. He’s the kid to ask if something needs to be done (it may not be done perfectly, but it’ll be done quickly). He is helpful and capable. He knows how to be affectionate without being overwhelming (and he is specifically very, very sweet to his mother). If he says he’ll do something, he will. If he says he won’t, he won’t. He can accomplish a few things independently (unlike any of his siblings).
Maybe it’s just that I’m in a season where those things are super helpful. Maybe it is because, despite our differences, he is the closest to me in personality (for the Myers-Briggs enthusiasts, I am and ISFJ and I’m fairly certain he is an ESFJ with possibly a slight F). Maybe it is that we are both middle children. Or maybe he is just so darn cute. Whatever reason (and just being my child is enough), I simply adore this kid.
His strengths don’t necessarily come across in public, though.
He hasn’t learned how to read the emotions of others well. He loves to be first. And best. He has no patience. He loves to play the devil’s advocate. He loves to play rough. (He finds the largest boy/man who looks the slightest bit playful or mischievous and tackles him. I need to pay a large teenager to wrestle and throw Luke to the ground for an hour or two every day.)
Sometimes it’s difficult (especially in a group setting) to keep Luke engaged. He checks out if he isn’t challenged. But challenge him too far (asking him to write anything), and he checks out, gives up. He has to feel capable of the work.
But if you let him help? Or give him a job? Shazzam. He’s on it. And let him touch things.
He also needs to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Give him the numbers. Show him the numbers on paper. A concrete list of tasks to be checked off. How many things do we have to do? When do we start? How long will they take? When will we be finished? What score do I need to pass? What do I get when I’m done?
Ahhhh, the incentives. I like to call them the four Cs:
Even better? If you win this competition, you can earn money and I will take you to the dollar store to buy candy. Ha! This kids loves to buy stuff. Snack vending machines and concession stands are his most favorite things in the universe.
I already shared an example of the difference between Luke and Levi (all concrete vs. all imaginative) when it comes to spelling lessons. A similar difference has shown up in math. Basic math facts were difficult for Levi, but now that he is coming to more interesting and complex math problems he is showing a willingness to write all over his paper and take time (for.eh.ver.) to do a math problem. Basic math is a piece of cake for Luke, but now that the problems require him to write (heaven forbid) and complete more than one step (and take more than a fraction of a second) he is enjoying math much less.
The boys recently completed some standardized testing with the charter school just to see how they are progressing. They all did great, but the only iffy spot was Luke’s reading comprehension. Honestly, it cracked me up because the results were so consistent with his personality. He aced the concrete questions. He bombed the inferring ones. And he got so frustrated with them while he was completing the test. “But it doesn’t SAY so!!”
I figure the inferring skill, or lack of, is partly a personality thing (exacerbated by the fact that he is a boy), partly a maturity thing (also exacerbated by the fact that he is a boy). Even so, it makes sense to practice inferring skills so he has more experience to draw from. I found a great free online resource called Read Theory to use once or twice a week. Fortunately, Luke likes reading, computerized tests, multiple choice, and immediate feedback. Again, I’ve watched him miss only inferring questions, but I love that this program specifically identifies what kind of question he missed as well as gives him an explanation for the reasoning behind the correct answers.
My favorite parenting book is Nurture by Nature: Understand Your Child's Personality Type - And Become a Better Parent. It has parenting advice based on the MB personality type of your child, and I cannot even tell you how brilliant it is. I just grabbed my book and found this quote under the ESFJ chapter:
“In school, ESFJs tend to excel during the early elementary years, when the emphasis is on mastery and demonstration of basic skills. Toward the end of elementary school and in junior and senior high school, the curriculum begins to focus on understanding theories, extrapolating meaning and subtexts from readings, and emphasizing more abstract concepts. ESFJs usually have more ease with factual and concrete learning. And, typically, when they do not instantly understand something, they become flustered and self-critical, saying things like “I’m so stupid” or “I’ll never understand this!” Once they assume a negative attitude, it can be difficult for them to see any possibilities other than failure.”
Yowsa. That is spot on. Luke is a whiz at memorizing (here and here are two examples). He was a Classical Conversations memory master last year, and he does a fantastic rendition of Mark Antony’s speech from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (I’ll have to get that on video soon). He’s great at facts and basic skills. He loves mastering things.
Luke also has great control over his body. He’s physically very capable and he loves to try dangerous stunts.
Three funnies from Luke yesterday:
“Sometimes when I’m in a good mood I like to organize things.” (As he pulled the mess out of one of the bathroom cupboards and started organizing it.)
"Looking at a coupon is like having a bunch of dollar bills staring you in the face." (As he is looking through a coupon flyer from the mail stack. He told me he learned that little tip in the Reader’s Digest—which he reads cover to cover—something about ‘things you don’t know about millionaires.’)
"Could you draw a bar graph comparing my behavior with my brothers'?" (We had just gotten home from Costco where he had watched my last nerve trampled. He’s often watchful in those situations and knows when to be on his best behavior. I, still stressed and behind schedule, told him I didn’t have time. He took it upon himself to make the bar graph. Points must have been awarded for positive behavior.)
He recently learned how to write in cursive and is quite proud of the fact. He also knows that I’m proud of his cursive (mostly because I know writing is a struggle for him) and uses it to his advantage. Now when he writes his “may I play on the i-pad?” notes, he writes them in cursive—knowing I’m much more likely to say ‘yes’ to a cursive note and sweet smile…