Children need love and attention from their parents, but having two or more children can pose a challenge for moms and dads to spread the warmth evenly. My four year old and seven year old are completely different little people. I love them both immensely, but my relationship with each of them is different. Sometimes my more reactive seven year old will get upset if he thinks I'm harder on him. Often my four year old will become frustrated if she thinks I'm spending more time helping her big brother with a social problem. When my third was born, I didn't know how that would affect the balance--or lack thereof. The dynamic is, well, dynamic.
It's true that sometimes this imbalance will occur when siblings are sharply different in terms of talents and personality. Jennifer Lynch, an educator and author of the children’s book Livi and Grace, says giving children equal attentiveness is important to their happiness and starts with parents appreciating their uniqueness.
“Children are unique, unknown little people waiting to be revealed,” Lynch says. “Parents need to ask themselves, how can I embrace these differences and make each child feel and recognize their beautiful uniqueness?
“Let the mystery of who they are and who they are meant to be unfold in their own authentic way, however awesome or peculiar it is. Everyone is different and it’s important to make every child feel special, important and loved.”
Here's how parents can balance the attention:
Give them quality one-on-one time. Consistently taking time to give your children one-on-one time, Lynch says, shows them you care and that they are important. “This means no phones, no distractions, and being 100 percent present with your child,” Lynch says. “Make eye contact, ask questions, and just listen and let them lead at whatever activity or interaction is taking place. This makes them feel safe, in control and loved.”
Celebrate their uniqueness. An imbalance in parental attention can lead to siblings comparing themselves — never a good idea because that can create jealousy and low self-esteem, thus accentuating a sibling rivalry. At the same time, children may think the parent is showing favoritism. “Susie may be faster than Johnny, but Johnny may be a brilliant chess player,” Lynch says. “So when they begin to compare themselves with their siblings, take that conversation and turn it into how great it is that they each have a place that shines. And bring in more examples of how their differences are beautiful and important. Set up scenarios showing examples of how those differences are good.”
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Show your love for them. “You obviously love your children, so don’t be afraid to show it,” Lynch says. “Give them that authentic shout-out, or the gentle, grace- filled redirection and encouragement when they need to try again at something, whether it’s poor behavior or just losing a game. Leave the shame out of it.”
Validate them but be authentic. When it comes to praise, Lynch says quality is much more important than quantity. “Children can recognize a fake compliment a mile away,” Lynch says. “They know if you’ve really seen them or not. They know if it’s from the heart or just surface praise.”
“In these ways, showing appreciation for who each of them are will help your children develop confidence in themselves,” Lynch says. “They will take your lead and begin to find other amazing things about themselves and their friends. Making each of your very different children feel truly loved and valued will help them grow up to be happy and responsible adults.”
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