Maybe you have two kids, perhaps you have three or four. They all share at least one parent, but they couldn’t be more different. Loud, quiet, bookish, artsy, athletic, or musical — they all have individual strengths that make them unique.
No doubt, you’re doing your best. In attempting to be the ultimate parent, though, you might be making a common mistake. You could be trying to treat all of them exactly the same. Because they’re all distinct, however, they have different wants and needs. That means, to be fair to each, you can’t give them all the same treatment.
Of course, you must feed, house, and clothe your kids equally. So where does the different treatment come in? Consider these situations when making your parenting decisions.
1. They’re Maturing Differently
Even if your children are very close in age, there’s no guarantee they’re growing up at the same rate. Maturity is a very individual thing. One child might volunteer to help around the house while the other still needs a reminder to shower. Clearly, one is ready for more responsibility than the other.
If your child is emotionally maturing, it may be time to think about expanding their privileges. Perhaps you’re considering letting them walk to the neighborhood park with a friend. Getting them a phone for kids can give them some well-earned freedom while providing you with peace of mind. A phone acknowledges their growth and offers them another opportunity to demonstrate that they’re responsible by always answering your calls.
2. They’re Different Ages
If you have more than one child, you’re likely going to run into this problem at some point. Your little one will constantly want what their older sibling has. Give your 13-year-old a 9:30 p.m. bedtime, and your 10-year-old wails for the same thing. The envy could be intense, leading to epic battles at night.
It may be tempting to give in, but resist caving to the tantrums. Your older child had to wait for that bedtime, too. Being able to stay up later is a rite of passage that acknowledges they’re growing up. They can handle a later bedtime without being The Grinch when they wake in the morning. Letting your little one stay up later could hinder their growth and even lead to behavior problems.
3. They Respond to Different Discipline Styles
The variations between your kids’ likes and dislikes are just the beginning of what sets them apart from each other. Kids with differing personalities aren’t likely to respond to the same discipline style. For some children, a disappointed glance and a shake of the head are enough to curb bad behavior. Others need more direct intervention before they get the message.
When deciding on a punishment, be sure you’re being fair to your child’s personality. A child who changes their ways simply to avoid letting you down doesn’t always need a two-week grounding without TV.
What if your child doesn’t learn until they experience a small physical consequence, however? That’s normal and OK. Consider leaving the Legos on the hallway floor after they’ve ignored your request to clean up for the 20th time. One step on a hard plastic brick during a 3 a.m. bathroom trip, and they won’t disregard your directive again.
4. They’ve Put Forth Different Types of Effort
Have you had a kid play on a sports team at the community center? If so, you’ve likely attended an awards ceremony where they handed out “participation trophies.” Giving everyone a token for being part of the team sounds great. It’s definitely equal, but it’s not fair.
Kids who invest time and energy into more practice and more intense play deserve extra acknowledgment for their hard work. The same is true at home with your own kids. Say your kids do chores for the same weekly allowance. You could consider a slight raise for the one who completes the tasks well without being reminded repeatedly. Paying them more money may not be equal treatment, but it’s fair to reward their added effort.
5. They Need It
It might sound strange to think your children need you to treat them differently. It’s true, though. Does your 10-year-old require the same 45 minutes of story and cuddle time at night your 4-year-old enjoys? No, but they could use your help practicing multiplication tables or studying for their social studies test.
Paying attention to — and meeting — your child’s needs in the moment can help them build trust. They know you see and hear them. You’re showing them that their individuality matters. It also teaches them it’s OK to ask for what they need instead of merely accepting what everyone else gets.
As a parent, it’s vital to treat all your children fairly. Just remember that fairness is distinctly different from treating them equally. Trying to make sure everything you give your kids is 100% the same only leads to parental guilt and heartbreak. Instead, make it your No. 1 job to provide what they need to feel cared for and loved. Focusing on these areas could help you reach that goal.