Have you ever had the chance to watch your child through someone else’s eyes? It is truly amazing. No, transformative.

Recently I took a trip to California with my second-to-oldest daughter. Just the two of us. We had a wonderful few days filled with visiting friends and family, and an unforgettable trip to Disneyland.

Now, all my children are amazing, in different ways, and each one has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. And I had always thought that I treated each child as an individual and worked to bring out his or her best. What hadn’t occurred to me was that I was treating each child the way I saw that child, and in my limited vision I was missing out on abilities and capabilities that I simply didn’t know were there.

In my limited vision I was missing out on abilities and capabilities that I simply didn’t know were thereMy oldest is the kind of kid who was born an adult in a small body. She doesn’t seem to get older, just taller. Even looking at her baby pictures, she never looked like a baby or a cute little girl; she always had a mature look. From literally the moment she was born, she was called an “old soul.”

My next daughter is a free spirit. Not only physically much smaller than her older sister, she is much more relaxed, free-flowing, and mainly a happy, upbeat, worry-free child. She loves to dance around, sing at the top of her lungs, make funny faces and joke around. She is rarely without a smile on her face, and her high-pitched, squeaky voice means she can be heard from quite far away.

It is my oldest who babysits. Who cooks. Who cleans. Who takes care of organizing things and responsibilities. I guess I never needed to ask her younger sister to share in these tasks, because my oldest is so competent. I don’t think it ever even occurred to me.

So you can imagine my shock when, in California, I enter the kitchen, and there is my little blonde beauty putting in the oven a cake that she made, herself, start to finish! Sure enough, my friend needed help, handed her the cookbook, and she took charge and did it. This is the same child who woke up in the morning when the rest of us slept, took care of the baby, fed the older children, read to them and helped them finish their homework.

It doesn’t actually surprise me that she was able to do all of this. After all, she is a bright, helpful, loving girl. What surprises me is that I wasn’t aware she could do this, because I never gave her the chance. I was so busy thinking I knew my child that I was missing out on getting to know her.

I wasn’t aware she could do this, because I never gave her the chanceJewish philosophy teaches us, Chanoch le’naar al pi darko,” that we should educate a child according to his way. Meaning that each child is unique and different, and should be taught accordingly. I couldn’t agree more. I am a big believer in differentiated learning in the classroom and working with each individual the way that individual needs. I love the poster that hangs in the teachers’ room of my kids’ school. It reads: “A student need not learn the way a teacher chooses to teach. A teacher must teach the way a student needs to learn.”

I thought this is how I was parenting. What I failed to recognize is that my children are growing, changing and developing. It is not enough for me to recognize when they are ready to be toilet trained, or to move onto solids, or can cross the street by themselves. Emotionally, they are changing as well. And somehow, I missed that my second child could also be the responsible one, the cooking aide, the babysitter and the big helper. I was so busy seeing her as the younger sister, and treating her as such, that I failed to let her develop what she is truly capable of.

Coming back home, I started to take a good look at all my children and the unspoken roles that they fill. Even though my baby is my baby, if given the chance, maybe she could be a great “big sister” to a friend’s younger child. Maybe my oldest, my responsible one who can handle anything, wants or needs to be babied a bit more. And maybe my middle children really need to be treated as the oldest or the youngest at different times.

Sometimes, knowing someone too well blinds us from seeing who they really can beIt’s funny how, sometimes, knowing someone too well blinds us from seeing who they really can be. So when your kid, who always has tantrums at home, comes back from a playdate with a glowing report . . . don’t think to yourself, If only she knew how he really is . . . Think to yourself, How can I get to know this side of him; what can I do to bring this out in our home . . . ?

We are not the only ones who know our children. Their teachers do, their friends do, and what they know is just as real as what we know. And, as hard as this can be to swallow, sometimes what they see and know is even more real than what we know!