The Sibling Shuffle: Solutions for parenting more than one child
As one of nine children in my family of origin, and as the mother of four in my current family, I know all about the pain and the joys of sibling relationships and of the parenting challenges that come along with raising children. Here are some common complaints and dilemmas, and tips for parenting more than one child.
Common Complaints From Children To Parents
â€¢ That’s not fair!
â€¢ You like him/her better!
â€¢ How come you let him/her do _____________?
â€¢ Why do you baby him/her?
â€¢ How come you’re harder on me than the other kids?
Common Parenting Dilemmas
Here are some common family situations that may leave parents wondering how to manage their children’s varying needs:
â€¢ One child is dedicated to and involved in a sport, artistic, or academic area that is very time consuming and expensive.
â€¢ A child has an illness or disability and requires extra parental attention.
â€¢ Many years separate the ages of siblings so they are in different developmental stages.
â€¢ Your personality just “clicks” with one child over the others.
Solutions for Parenting More Than One Child:
1 -Focus on meeting needs instead of on fairness
No matter how hard you try to be “fair” among siblings there is really no way to achieve equality. There will be times when parent’s attention will shift slightly toward one child or another depending on each child’s needs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but an opportunity for the other children to learn life lessons, like empathy and patience. Rather than trying to be fair, focus on meeting each child’s needs at each stage of development.
A wise friend and mother of four, Cori Connors, shared this helpful idea when it comes to parenting many children, “I always told my children they were soup…some need an onion, some need more bullion, some need more salt or a little pepper. If I didn’t taste and adjust according to what was needed it would be yucky soup. You can’t just presume that fine cuisine follows one recipe.”
2-Celebrate each child’s unique qualities
Each child has different talents and strengths that can and should be celebrated. For example, if your family is big on sports and one child is more gifted in art than athletics, be sure to attend his or her art shows and encourage siblings to show their support. If you have a child that is more challenging for you to understand or celebrate, it’s even more important to actively find strengths to celebrate. Be careful not to compare children to their siblings.
3-Avoid labeling your children
While it’s natural for parents to categorize (i.e. the baby, the quiet one, the smart one, the dumb one, the helpful one, the pretty one, the loud one) but keep in mind that labels, even when positive, can hinder your child’s self-expression and development especially when they are rigid and enduring. It may be more helpful to acknowledge each child’s efforts instead of using a general label. For example, instead of saying, “You’re so smart” try, “You work hard and really seem to care about doing well in school.”
4-Listen to each child’s underlying emotions & desires
Underscoring children’s complaints to parents about unfair treatment are often requests for their needs to be met and for their underlying emotions to be heard. As the parent, you have the honor of helping your child learn to identify their deeper emotions and to help them say what they want and need from you. For example, if a child says, “You love him more than me!” he may be trying to say “Mom, I’m sad that I’m not spending more time with you.” Put your own defensiveness on hold and try to hear the meaning behind the complaint.
5-Encourage cooperation instead of competition
Since most siblings seem to be competitive by nature, it’s easy as a parent to use this competition to motivate our children to do what we want them to do. Instead, Use phrases that encourage win-win situations and helping each other. Instead of saying, “Let’s see who can get their teeth brushed first” try “Let’s all get teeth brushed and read a book together.”
Life lessons from a 3 year old
As I sat this evening on the sidelines watching my daughter’s lacrosse game, I was exhausted and looking forward to sitting down, unwinding, and watching the game.Â Quickly, my expectations for an hour of relaxationÂ were dashed when my hungry and thirsty and energetic 3 year old daughter MacyÂ began climbing on me, asking for food, refusing to wear her jacket, and sprinting across the long stretch of grass in the opposite direction.Â I didnâ€™t have the energy to chase her. I didnâ€™t even want to move.Â
I made a fewÂ idle threats like “You need to stay by me or you’ll have to go to the car” as I wondered, “How long do I have to stay and watch the game so my older daughter feelsÂ supported before I can leaveÂ to go home, eat, put my feet up and put this little one to bed?” I was emotionally and physically drained (for a variety of reasons and I will spare you the details).
As I was planning my exit strategyÂ IÂ noticed Macy,Â with her fair skin, yellow pigtails, and no jacket grinning with delight as she ran. HerÂ boundless energy stirredÂ a twinge of jealousy in me, as if somehow her glee was a threat.
Feeling a bit winded Macy sat downÂ on my lapÂ me and noticed that the family sitting next to usÂ had fruit snacks. She asked if she could have one and theyÂ gladly shared.Â Macy danced and made silly faces while eating it.Â I thought to myself, “I wish I could be so joyful aboutÂ small things.”Â
AsÂ she savored her fruit snack I noticed her slowly moving toward the little girl sitting next to us, tryingÂ to get her attention.Â Within a few minutesÂ Macy had made a new friend and was nestled up in the same chair while the older girl read a book to her.
Over the next 45 minutesÂ these two littleÂ girlsÂ chased each other, rolled around in the grass, and made a tent with the blanket and chairs, and pretended they were puppies. I marveled at how openÂ Macy was to reaching out and connecting to this girl without fear, and how easily delighted she was by the attention and the playful interaction. It dawned on me that the game was almost over.
During the final few minutes of the game I realized that whileÂ Macy was frolicking with her new friend,Â I had been sitting by this little girl’s momÂ and we hadn’tÂ exchangedÂ more than a fewÂ words. Taking the lead from my 3 year old, I turned to this lovely womanÂ and introduced myself, and began to askÂ about her andÂ her family. As the finalÂ whistle blew, we continued chatting and gathered our chairs and blankets, and mentioned that weâ€™ll likely be seeing a lot more of each other throughout the season. As we walked to the parking lot I felt energized, thanks to my 3 year old.