Way Stricter With One Child - How Bad?

Filed under: Opinions

In this column each week, an important question is asked, and answered: "Is this 'Bad Parent Behavior'? If so, ah, How Bad?"

At the park with a friend last weekend, my son asked if he can have cotton candy. "No," I say. "It's 10am." My son says, "Oh, ok," and goes over to my friend's son, where I see him gesturing in my direction: "She said No."

My friend looks at me like I've just done something impressive. "Wow," she says. "You are pretty firm." And it's true, I am. With one of my children. The one who follows rules.

If the other child was here, the one who doesn't like rules, I might think, well, how bad can some 10 am cotton candy be? It's just this once, right? And then this would be a totally different column, asking: How bad is it to feed your child bright blue, paper-like, sugar-based food at 10 am? But the point is, I realized that I'm way stricter with one child than with the other, and even to me it seems unfair. Bad, if you will. Hm... how bad?

I call Mommy Advisor Rosanne Tobey, L.P.C., director of Calm and Sense Therapy to find out, and I catch her at the playground. "Way stricter with one child? That doesn't sound good!" she's talking over the roar of kids on the slide. "Can I call you back?"

"Here's the deal," says Tobey, calling me later from her quiet office. "I'm assuming you're tougher on the first one?" Yes. "That's pretty common because we are so hard on ourselves about doing everything perfectly with Child Number One, so of course we're going to lighten up with the second." And that's a good thing, Tobey says. I mean how could we keep up this intensity, right?

"But," Tobey continues, "For the big issues, it's important to have strong clear rules that are in effect with all your children. The rules ones that represent your values as a family, need to be non-negotiable for everyone." As an example? Backtalk. If you take it from one child, it won't be long before you're taking it from all of them.

The other risks with being rules-lax with one child, Tobey says, are:

1. Sooner or later the child you're strict with will understand they're being held to different standards, and will resent you.

2. If you're always changing the rules, there's no sense of safety and continuity in your household.

3. The worst one: "A child who is not taught to follow rules grows up without a sense of personal responsibility," which Tobey warns can lead to a teenager who is self-entitled and rebellious. Uh-oh.

Her suggestions:

Let the kids help make the rules. They'll be more likely to follow them, and your home will feel like less of a dictatorship and more of a cooperative.

Keep the big rules consistent. Meaning everyone follows these. Try, though it's hard, to be even-handed regarding consequences.

Be flexible. Wait -- huh? Tobey says it's okay to loosen up, with any of the kids, once in a while. Cotton candy at 11 am won't hurt anyone, once in a blue moon. And just because you say yes once does not mean you always have to say yes; just be clear that you're making a special exception. Being less rigid means you'll be teaching your children what it means to be compromising and fair.

Finally, Tobey reminds me, "Parenting is a process, not an event. The result is a cumulative effect of our efforts. If you find you've been being uneven with your kids, don't beat yourself up over it, just being aware of it helps you make changes and helps you grow as a parent." Ah, thank you!

So, answer the question: How bad? "This could be a 5 or even a 7 if you're not enforcing rules at all with one of the kids. If you show your children how to follow rules now, you'll get a child who understands why rules are important on an internal level, which will avoid that sense of entitlement later."

If you've committed a parenting crime and you want to know, How Bad? Send it to PrincessLvsPink@Gmail.com and you might find out.

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of PrincessLovesPink.com

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.