It's Not Fair
Parenting Oldest, Middle and Youngest Children
The challenge of communicating with and disciplining children is something all parents must address. It is important that parents be on the same page as their children, otherwise they could become confused. How we address children heavily depends on their age, their ability to understand language, and their order of birth.
The oldest child has the advantage of having all of his or her parents’ attention in the beginning. Oldest children can be addressed directly without parents being distracted by other children. However, they lack a positive role model and the opportunity to watch and learn from somebody else on how to interact with their parents.
When there is more than one child, they notice how their parents interact and discipline their older or younger siblings. As parents, we are aware of this because children often try and challenge us. When one child is given more privileges, the other children protest and we often hear the phrase, “It’s not fair!” To answer that phrase, we need to make time available to discuss the differences so that the discussion promotes the idea that a child obeys in the moment and can ask to talk about it later. It is tempting — but always a mistake — to get drawn into a conversation with a child of any age about fairness. You could say something to the effect of, “It seems unfair, I know, but I have to take into account that you are two very different people. You have your strengths and weaknesses, and your sister has her own strengths and weaknesses.”
As we discuss the reason for the direction of discipline, we must be aware of the age and intellectual level of the child with whom we are dealing. With very young children, the explanation needs to be short and to the point. As children grow older, we need to give more details about the reasons behind our decision. When children think about the explanation, this may help them to make more sophisticated choices for their behavior in the future. Children who never know why we have said yes or no have difficulty making judgments for themselves later on in life. The explanations for children of all ages are much the same. However, for younger children, simpler, shorter and more concrete explanations are more appropriate. As children age, those same explanations can benefit from being more elaborate.
The younger the child, the more concrete and less complex an explanation should be. For instance, “Don’t touch the stove! It’s hot!” With an older child, one might elaborate and say, “I turned the stove on 15 minutes ago and by now it would be hot enough to burn you if you were to touch it.” That’s because he knows that sometimes it is not hot. For children in the middle, they may need directions that are a little more specific. For instance, “You must cross the street at the crosswalk at the end of the block. When you cross in the middle of the block, cars are going faster and not paying attention to people walking across the street, so you are more likely to get hit.”
Older children usually have a comeback when there is something they cannot do. For example, if your son said, “My friend Landon can stay out as late as he wants but I have to be home by eight o’clock. How come?” You could reply, “It gets dark at eight o’clock and that makes you more vulnerable to anybody who is out there with bad intentions.” In that case, if you were to start giving specific examples of bad intentions, they would come back with arguments against each of your points, and that is why I would simply use “bad intentions,” as it is harder to argue against that.
Communicating positive feelings are just as important as negative ones, perhaps even more so. If the child is exhibiting good behavior, you should attend to it with praises like, “Great!” Later on, you might want to elaborate on why you liked something he or she did. Attention and praise are very effective parenting tools when used accurately and discriminately.
The complete article can be found in Issue #277 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.