Not long ago, my husband planted a beautiful jasmine in a flower bed with an Australian Leucadendron. The spot was perfect for the jasmine, which is doing very well. It loves the location and happily soaks up the water we deliver regularly.

But the once-thriving Leucadendron appears to be dying. Half of its leaves are brown, and it is clearly unhappy.

What happened to our happy bush?

Water happened to it. The Leucadendron is a drought-tolerant plant that grows in dry conditions like South Africa. It likes deep, infrequent watering. After growing beautifully in its location for years, the needs of its thirsty companion threw it off completely.

It’s telling us the only way it can: by turning its leaves brown.

Plants don’t usually decline without a reason. A good gardener (which I am not!) pays attention to the needs of each individual plant, choosing locations and soil conditions while customizing a watering/ fertilizing schedule to suit its particular needs.

Thinking about this this led me to reflect on how we raise our children. Sammy likes to go out with the family on weekends; Julius longs to stay home and read his books or build with Legos. Christina aces every spelling test. Thomas barely passes.

Julius has a temper tantrum when we insist on filling our weekend with one activity after another. “Why can’t you enjoy the fun we’re having? Be a good sport, like your brother Sammy!”

Thomas has a meltdown when it’s time to do his spelling homework. “It’s easy! Try harder and you’ll be a terrific speller, just like your sister!”

When our children don’t match up to who we’d like them to be, we may urge them to be different, often by comparing them to a sibling or friend who more closely resembles the child we would prefer them to be.

Every children comes into the world with pre-loaded gifts, waiting to be celebrated. But so often, we disregard who they are meant to be and try to make them who we think they should be.

Some children comply. They try hard to be the square peg in the round hole to win our approval. Generally, this strategy has an expiration date. At some point in their adult life, the shackles will come off and they may leave their job or wife or lifestyle, shocking everyone who thought them so steady and predictable.

Other children rebel from the start. Their meltdowns reflect a deep need to being who they’re meant to be–and no one else. If we can put aside our expectations and preferences to see what’s at the root of a child’s tantrums, we may discover that–like the brown leaves of our Leucadendron, our child is simply “announcing” that something isn’t working. If and when we address that particular child’s needs–adjust the “watering” schedule or change elements in the “soil”–this child comes to life.

Consider the qualities in your child that you find difficult to accept. Maybe he’s not as academic as you wish, or she’s got a fiery temper. Perhaps she talks your ear off, or he is indifferent to your passion for sports.

Imagine the world if every child was given what he or she most needed to grow into who they are uniquely meant to become, While we’ll always need to prod our kids a bit when it’s time to study for a spelling test or join the family for an outing, when the undercurrent of our attitude toward each child is one of affection and acceptance, daily life goes more smoothly….and our children thrive as we rejoice in who they are.

For more support and strategies for helping behaviorally challenged children thrive, check out my master class with Dr. Ross Greene.


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