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Individualized Parenting:

Different Rules for Different Kids

If you have more than one child, then you know firsthand how different your children can be. One might be more energetic and a social butterfly, while the other is a bit more laid-back and enjoys one-on-one time. Whatever their differences, the one thing they definitely have in common is that they are not the same. You may love your children equally, but that doesn’t mean you have to treat them the same. When I’m personally trying to manage a meltdown, my remedy largely depends on which kid is upset. If it’s my sensitive 7-year-old crying over hurt feelings, cuddling is the only cure. But, if it’s my 3-year-old who’s melting down over someone touching his Spiderman toy, I remove him from the situation and give him some space to regain his composure. My youngest can chill out by himself, but my oldest needs human contact…it’s a perfect example of how different kids need different things.

When it comes to raising children, parents learn very quickly that one parenting style doesn’t necessarily fit all. While it’s natural to want to set consistent standards and give each child the same amount of attention, the truth is that you can be fair without being equal. In fact, customizing your parenting style to your child’s temperament may even bring you and your kids closer, because doing so makes it easier to meet each child’s needs. Of course it would be simpler if the exact same strategies worked for every child. To make it easier, the American Academy of Pediatrics has identified common sibling contrasts that often call for an individualized approach.


Different Kids: Your younger child thrives on a very strict schedule, while his older sibling is good at rolling with the punches.

Different Rules: When you need to choose between your kids’ competing agendas, oil your squeaky wheel first. If one child’s regimen gets in the way, appease the other by saying something like, “We can’t go to the movie because it ends too late for your brother’s nap, but we’ll rent one instead that you and I can watch together.”


Different Kids: One of your children is totally cooperative and agreeable, while the other one seems to fight you at every turn.

Different Rules: Just because your disciplinary strategy was successful with one child doesn’t mean it will fly with your second (or third, or fourth). If a kid isn’t responding to your approach, make adjustments. She may just need a tighter leash than her sibling does.


Different Kids: Your oldest (or youngest) child demands a lot more attention than the others do.

Different Rules: If one of your kids feels overshadowed by another, explain why you can’t always give him as much attention as you’d wish. Say something like, “Your little sister needs Mommy right now because she could get hurt unless I’m watching her.” Make sure you spend some extra time with him when you have a free minute.


Different Kids: You share a special interest with one child more than another.

Different Rules: If you take one kid to soccer every week, block out a regular time to do something your other child likes, whether it’s going to a comic-book store or visiting a science museum. You might even develop new interests yourself.

When you take a different approach with each child, help each one realize that you’re not playing favorites. Don’t compare them to their siblings and never withhold affection. Yes, one child may be a breeze while another is an absolute hurricane, but spread out the “I love yous” evenly anyway. The key is to adjust your approach based on their individual quirks, and you’ll make everyone happier (including you).

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