For parents with more than one child, concerns around fair treatment may have crossed your mind more than once. After all, each child has his or her own needs, personality, age, or temperament, so how can they be treated the same? How do you deal with envy? Or Jealousy? Here are some helpful tips:
1. VALUE YOUR CHILD’S FEELINGS
Acknowledge feelings: do not try to shut a child’s feelings down. Feelings are natural and normal. It’s what we do with them that matters. Validate, validate, validate. Yes, this is hard when we ourselves are tired, overwhelmed, and feeling rushed or behind schedule. This is when you need to dig deep in yourself, take a deep breath and put your child first. Dinner can wait, no one will remember in 5 days that you were late to soccer practice, school or work. You are raising a child to be emotionally competent. Take the time to support each child. When we respond in an accepting manner to our children’s emotionally needs they learn that they are accepted and they will learn how to self sooth and self regulate their emotions.
2. HOLDING IS KEY
Your children need you to hold them both physically and emotionally. Physically, the child receives the message that “I am worthy of Mom or Dad’s attention and love”. Physically touch has been shown to reduce stress, physical pain and helps your child develop both emotionally and physically. Research and life experience has shown that babies who do not receive physical contact can fail to grow and thrive. Emotionally, your child needs you to help them map out how to cope with stressful and challenging situations.
No matter what you do, there will be some jealousy and envy between your children. Children know they are not been treated the same nor can you treat each child identically. Each child is unique and her or his own needs. When and if your child complains you spend more time with “child X” take the time to reflect on why this may be and address the issue. It is important to develop an individual relationship with each of your children. This means spending one on one time with each child engaging in their favourite activity or interest. While it can be difficult to find the time as a busy parent to create special time for each individual child it will pay off as you develop a special individual relationship with each of your children. Let your children know that your love is boundless and there is enough love for everyone.
4. DIFFERENCES ARE OK
Celebrate differences as a welcome part of life: no child is “more than” or “less than” because of a talent or skill or a capacity. This is a message that parents must be ready to reinforce. Look for and celebrate the differences your children bring to your family. Each person contributes differently to the family and helps create your family into a special unit. Maybe one child is a math whiz, while another child is great at finding lost articles, and the other tells great stories or jokes. All are loved and lovable regardless of differences or struggles.
5. SPECIAL NEEDS
When one child may need more attention due to a special need or needs, other children may build resentment and try to act in ways to get more attention. Make sure that situations like this get attention from you, the parent, so that resentments do not build up. It is difficult for children to see Mom or Dad spend all their time with the child who needs “more attention.” Each child does demand extra attention at certain ages. How will you deal with this as a parenting team? The trick is to ensure you each find time to spend with your other children. Even when you’re exhausted cuddling with your child can meet their needs of getting you to him or herself. You can also try to enlist the help of extended family as well. Can a Grandparent or Aunt or Uncle help relieve some pressure?
Trust that your children can resolve their own conflicts as they grow: unless there is any hint of bullying, give them the space to figure problems out between each other. At first, it will be in the advantage of one child, usually the older child, but over time your children will learn how to negotiate and advocate for themselves. But be listening and do help out a bit if fairness never takes place. You want to give them the room to develop their conflict resolution skills. Be there to guide and support your children in learning how to express their disappointment with each other. This is an important skill for adulthood and other relationships. This does not mean it’s OK to yell, scream, or belittle each other. Model for your children “I” statements such as “I feel hurt when you take my toy without asking me” or I don’t like it when you go into my room and use my markers without asking me” or “I don’t like it when you can my ponies/ dolls / books dumb”. You want to teach your children how to emotionally express themselves and how to learn empathy and the skill of listening and accepting someone else’s emotions and point of view.
Demonstrate to your children how you resolve problems between you and your partner. Think back to your own childhood. How many people heard their parents fight? The answer varies from “They fought all the time” to “They never fought”. For most people, we heard our parents fight, but surprisingly most people have never heard or seen their parents “make up after a fight.” Children are social beings and learn from watching. Please don’t fight in front of your children; this can be very frightening and unhealthy for your children. But do show your children how you forgive, apologize, and confirm your love for each other. Mummies and Daddies do get angry and disagree. And it’s important to teach them how to sincerely apologize to someone. As my husband says “Which one is more important? Being right or putting our relationship first?” It takes courage to step back from a heated discussion and put your relationship first. After all we all want to be right and the other wrong. Modelling can prove to be a very powerful tool in how children learn to resolve problems.
These are only a few of many possible things that you can do. If you are having problems with sibling rivalry, blended family issues, differences in your couple regarding how to raise your children, or any other issues in this area, there is help at Family-Therapy in Ottawa. Greg offers family counselling in Kanata and Barrhaven. Kelly offers family counselling in Kanata. Call and book an appointment with one of our family, child, and relationship therapists at: 613-287-3799.