Raising Teen Siblings Equally

The majority of parents would agree that they want to treat everyone in the family the same. We want to be fair and consistent with each of our children so that they feel valued and loved and don’t compare themselves to each other.

While this is a worthy goal, in reality, it’s almost impossible to treat everyone exactly the same. Older chil­dren should have different responsibilities and privileges from younger ones. High-strung children need different approaches than do easygoing ones. Creative children require different outlets and activities than logical ones. Everyone is unique with different temperaments, personalities, and needs.

Our parenting can be influenced by a number of uncontrolled circumstances, such as:

  • Birth Order. Each child that enters the family naturally receives a different parenting experience, and there are pros and cons to any position in the family line-up. New parents have a lot of enthusiasm for their new role and more free time, but they are also more anxious and overprotective. Subsequent children might not receive their parents’ undivided attention, but they benefit from wiser and more confident parents. In addition, each child’s age will influence what privileges and responsibilities they will have.
  • Special Needs Children. Regardless of whether your child has mental, physical, or emotional disabilities, it is only natural that children with special needs are going to require more time and energy than your other children.
  • Gender. Whether we like it or not, we all have gender stereotypes which can inadvertently impact our parenting. From the chores we assign (boys mow the lawn and girls fold the laundry) to the behavior we expect (boys should be tough while girls can cry), it’s important that we try to parent based on each child’s needs instead of on gender societal norms.
  • Personality. Each one of our children is born with their own unique personality. We might have one child who is outgoing, while another is introverted. One child might be overly energetic while the other is even-tempered. They each also have their own strengths and weaknesses. Every personality responds differently to the same parenting technique. What motivates an enthusiastic child might frighten a sensitive one.

With so many different needs among children, it is actually a good idea to parent somewhat differently. While we need to remain as fair as possible to all, we should adjust our rules, expectations, responsibilities, activities, rewards and discipline to meet the needs of each individual. The idea is that your parenting style should focus on giving each of your children what they need to be successful and feel loved.

Tips for Parenting Differently but Fairly

Provide equal resources to each child. While it’s impossible to treat each child exactly the same, all of your children should be given the same amount of time, attention, and opportunities. For example, let’s say you have two sons. One likes basketball and the other likes art. You might take the son who loves basketball to a game as a special outing, while you take the son who loves art to a museum. Tickets to the game may have been more expensive than entry to the museum, so it’s not strictly equal, but it’s fair based on each child’s unique interests and needs and the fact that you are spending special time with them doing something they like. Family problems will develop if a parent invests more time or energy with one child simply because they are more interested in the same things. Another example is spending the same amount on each child on their birthday even though the type and number of gifts would be unique to that child’s interests. So, while your parenting focus shouldn’t be on strict equality in all things, equality in resources is still an important factor in preventing feelings of favoritism among siblings.

Observe and accept your child’s personality. Every parent should study their child to determine their natural temperament. You should be able to identify your child’s ability to adapt to change, emotional intensity, tolerance for frustration, natural social interaction, energy level, and other characteristics. Once you understand their personality, it’s important to accept who they are and adapt your parenting approach to bring out their best.

Support children’s individual needs. Each child will need different things at different times. While it’s important to try to share time and resources fairly among your children, you shouldn’t feel guilty if a particular need requires more of your attention for a specific amount of time. It will even out over the long haul. Provide support as each child needs it, but also explain to other siblings why one child might be getting extra attention. For example, you might say, “this isn’t because he’s more special, it’s because this is what he’s needing right now and when you need us, we’re right there for you.”

Establish consistent family rules and consequences. If you want to avoid feelings of favoritism among your children, it’s very important that you establish consistent rules. Consider sitting down to a family meeting where you decide together what rules are important to your family’s values and what the specific consequences are for breaking those rules. Although rules and consequences should be slightly different based on your teens’ ages, there should still be a logical consistency.

Establish individual time with each child. To create an environment where each child feels valued, it’s very important that parents build in time for special outings or one-on-one moments with each of their children. You could schedule fun activities that fit your child’s interests, visit one of their favorite places to eat, or ask them to teach you something they are good at. Consistently taking time to give your children one-on-one time shows them you care and that they are important.  

Respond to “it isn’t fair” as a learning lesson. Inevitably, one of your children will announce, “It’s not fair!” When this happens, it’s ok to let your children know that life isn’t always fair and that being disappointed or having to wait for something will help build their patience, resilience, and ability to cope with frustration. Be prepared to sit with the child and talk through any difficult feelings they have. They may have a valid point (see next point) or they may just need to understand the bigger perspective.

Respond to “it isn’t fair” as a way to gain perspective. Even if parents interact with their children in a comparable manner, each child may perceive these actions differently. Because every child is unique they also perceive their role and relationship in the family differently. They have their own opinion about how they have been loved, appreciated, respected, and understood by all the family members. When your child claims something isn’t fair, find out why. Validate their feelings and explain your intentions. This type of open conversation can resolve a lot of misunderstandings and create a closer relationship.

Final Thoughts…

Parenting is never easy, and creating equity among family members is very challenging. While there are some things out of your control such as birth order and your child’s personality, you can audit your own parenting to consider if you provide similar discipline and opportunities for each of your children. With a thoughtful approach, you can create an environment where everyone feels loved, valued, and respected, even if your parenting style is not exactly the same among your children.

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