If you’re the parent of multiple children, at some point you’ll no doubt be accused by one child of liking their sibling more than you like them. While you may be quick to dismiss the thought, there may be some truth behind it.
It’s a difficult job as the parent of multiples to juggle everyone’s needs when they can be very different. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld said, “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family.” Children are quick to point out anything they see as “unfair” and it’s important early on to begin teaching children that fair doesn’t mean everyone gets the same but rather that everyone gets what they need. For example, if you have three children and one has outgrown their shoes, does it mean that all three children get new shoes? In most households, probably not. Remind children that family budgets are limited so you make decisions that meet family members’ various needs.
If the question of favoritism has come up, it’s a great opportunity to talk with the child who feels that way and really listen to their thoughts. Be open minded and try to understand where they are coming from. Do you spend more time with one child? Do you often brag to others about one child’s academic, sports, or talent accomplishments? Does one child have different rules or expectations to follow that aren’t reasonable? Do you frequently talk about one child being just like yourself?
Favoritism, or the perception of it can cause a lot of friction in a household. Jealously on the part of one child can damage sibling relationships, either short term or long term. Parental partnerships can become difficult if one partner feels the other is in fact “playing favorites.” Some studies show children can bring these feelings of favoritism into adulthood and struggle more with depression or the ability to establish healthy relationships with their own children.
Spend a little reflective time each week and look back at your interactions with your children. Did you spread yourself around and spend time with each one? Did you stay on top of how things are going in general for them – with school, family, and friends? If it makes sense in your situation, purposefully block out some alone time to spend with each child. That time might be while you’re driving a child to or from sports practice, while you’re cooking dinner together or packing lunches for the next day, or it might mean having lunch out or a similar experience.
We all know the saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Your family might have one or two very squeaky wheels, but with a little thought and planning, everyone can get their needs met.
“It wasn’t me!!!!” As a parent, you probably have heard those words many times from your children. Accountability seems too often to be a bit of a lost art. A recent conversation at a social event centered on many of the participants agreeing that we live in a world where people don’t admit their mistakes and are more likely to place blame for errors on someone else.
How can we help our children learn that it’s important to take personal responsibility for mistakes? First, it’s a natural reaction for children to avoid admitting anything that they think will get them into trouble. They don’t want to have a parent angry with them or get punished in some way. Self-preservation is a powerful instinct.
Adults are guilty of this too. Not only do many adults avoid admitting their mistakes, they frequently insist on blaming others. When children grow up hearing their parents consistently give excuses and blame others, they will develop that pattern in their own lives too.
So, where do we start?
• Acknowledge your own mistakes in a calm way. (“I should not have been rude to that clerk. I was frustrated, and she was just trying to do her job.”)
• Discuss mistakes and how things could be handled better in the future.
• Be realistic with your expectations for your children. Childhood has a big learning curve. Remind your children that sometimes they will make mistakes but that you will be there to help them learn from them. Understand that mistakes don’t always involve dishonest or malicious behavior.
• Praise children when they do show accountability. Be supportive and acknowledge the effort it took to be truthful and take responsibility.
• Don’t bail your child out from everything. Allow natural consequences if it won’t endanger them. For example, if they don’t complete requirements at school to earn a privilege, support the teacher and reinforce that the consequence is due to their failure to do their part. Don’t try to “make it up to them” if they are disappointed. Don’t make excuses for them.
James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Think twice the next time you are ready to blame someone or something when your own life goes a little off track. Take a deep breath, admit the mistake, and move forward. Your child needs you to show them the way.
Having a strong bond with your child is a wonderful thing, but what happens when your child is so attached that they just can’t be comfortable being away from you?
Sometimes it’s obvious that a child has some separation anxiety. Other times, a parent can be so close to the situation that they don’t see it objectively and may not recognize what others, such as grandparents or teachers feel is a problem. If you aren’t sure yourself, talk with other parents, your pediatrician or school counselor and trusted friends. Ask what they see and if they feel it is beyond a typical situation. Bear in mind that children are all different and there is a range to consider, but if your child’s attachment to you is consistently interfering with normal day to day life for either or both of you, it could be time to work on the issue.
Extreme attachment can be more serious, especially if there has been a history of trauma to the child – abuse, neglect, or abandonment are some triggers for many children. In those cases, professional help should be considered. In less extreme situations, a process of gradual weaning may be all it takes. Some key steps to try include:
- Examine who is fueling the attachment- the child? The parent? Both? As parents it feels good to know our child needs us and it can be hard to step back and watch our child become more independent.
- Take small steps. For example, if you have a preschooler, you may try a parent/child playgroup together first and then move on to a morning preschool program your child attends alone a few mornings a week.
- Praise successes but don’t overdo it. Too much focus on the behavior can sometimes feed into it being a “bigger deal” to the child. Stay calm and matter of fact. (“You had fun at preschool today. You got to play with lots of friends and you remembered that I always come back for you.”)
- Help create bonds for your child with other people like peers, teachers, babysitters etc. When they expand their circle of people they feel safe around they will be better able to handle time away from you.
- Avoid long drawn out goodbyes when you do separate. Keep a simple routine and follow it every time. Keep your own emotions under control when you are leaving – a smile on your face and a few words of encouragement are better than letting your child see that you are also upset.
This can be a hard stage for families but if you follow through consistently the day should come soon when your child can let go and jump right in to their own activities without any drama. Keep smiling and know that you are helping your child to grow.
We’ve all heard the clichés about spending “quality time” with our children. If you’re like most people, you probably nod your head in agreement but really don’t think too much about exactly what that looks like in your own situation.
Face it – we all think of ourselves as busy people and it’s easy for days to slip away from us in the middle of the practical obligations of work, laundry, grocery shopping, car repairs, paying bills, and otherwise maintaining our households. The other reality? Childhood is a short period of time and we don’t get any do-overs.
So, what’s the answer? In the middle of all the parental responsibilities, don’t forget to have some fun with your children. Think about your own favorite childhood memories. Write down ten things you loved to do and resolve to make some of those happen again. This isn’t about money or expensive trips. It often really is all about the little things. Camp in your backyard. Cook together. Have a pillow fight. Play with water balloons. Stage a family talent night. Go on a mystery destination car ride. Go for ice cream in your jammies. Go fishing. Have a scavenger hunt. Do a family movie night. Visit all of the Little Free Libraries in your neighborhood. Volunteer together. Practice random acts of kindness. Have a picnic. Go to the beach!
Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby to us) said it well, “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.”
Now go have some fun and create some amazing memories!
Parents frequently express concern about how best to handle it when their sweet faced child suddenly bursts out with language that is blush-worthy. Do you ignore it? Do you punish for it? The answer isn’t simple and can depend on the situation.
First off, take a look at the term “inappropriate.” Different homes and different cultures may not agree on what that means. You have to determine what is and is not acceptable for your child based on your own thoughts as a parent. Is it “bathroom language?” Is it racially demeaning, discriminating or otherwise hurtful? Is it obscene?
When you have clear ideas about what you consider unacceptable from your child, next look at why the language is happening. Oftentimes children will test boundaries and set up power struggles around language because they see a significant reaction when they use the words. Sometimes inappropriate language comes as a result of frustration or anger. In some cases, children will try out extreme language to gain attention from peers. Zero in on what is happening in your child’s life at that time that may be behind the language issue. Listen to them and offer your help problem solving.
The age of the child will also help determine how best to respond. If the child is a preschooler or elementary age child, start out by simply stating that you do not use that language in your family. Stay calm and repeat that message if necessary. Sometimes removing yourself from the room is helpful. “I don’t like hearing those words. I’m going to read in my room for awhile. When you are ready to use polite words I will be happy to talk to you again.” Older children who continue to use unacceptable language may need to lose privileges as a result.
Sometimes it may be helpful to give your child alternative words that are silly or fun to say as a more positive verbal outlet. (“Oh huckleberries!”) Encourage the use of words that describe their feelings and emotions as well. (“I’m super angry!” “I’m so frustrated!”) When your child learns to better identify their feelings, it opens the door to discussion and help.
Take some proactive steps in your household to prevent language you don’t support. Pay attention to your own language. Good or bad, children emulate what we do. In addition, monitor the television and music your child is exposed to. Standards of what can be said on television and in music can be eye-opening for parents who may remember a time when controls were tighter. Whatever you do, don’t laugh at the child or ask them to repeat the negative language. Doing so virtually guarantees they will do it again.
Many children go through a phase where they try out some pretty harsh language. Rest assured that it’s not uncommon and often lasts for a short time only. Be consistent and calm and odds are you will not have to deal with the problem for long.