Self & Relationship Expert Julie A. Hanks, LCSW, Owner and Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, shares common complaints among siblings and 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
• That’s not fair!
• You like him/her better!
• How come you let him/her do _____________?
• Why do you baby him/her?
• 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:
• One child is dedicated to and involved in a sport, artistic, or academic area that is very time consuming and expensive.
• A child has an illness or disability and requires extra parental attention.
• Many years separate the ages of siblings so they are in different developmental stages.
• 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.”
Self & Relationship Expert Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, founder and director of Wasatch Family Therapy, LLC specializes in women’s mental health therapy, marriage counseling, & family therapy. Visit www.wasatchfamilytherapy.com to learn more about counseling services, workshops, classes. Visit www.juliehanks.com for more inspiration on how to let your best self shine!