Parenthood is the ultimate juggling act, and at no time is that more clear than when you’re trying to spread your time and attention among your children. Striking this delicate balance involves satisfying the needs of each kid while at the same making sure no one feels left out.
It’s a worthwhile endeavor. Helping your child feel loved and special apart from his siblings can mold his identity and set him up for a healthy sense of self-worth and self-esteem in the future. On the flip side, kids who don’t feel that special attachment with their parents may act out later in life, points out Laura Kauffman, Ph.D., a licensed child psychologist in Menlo Park, California. “These children are less likely to follow the rules of the household, and they are likely to vie for their parent’s attention in less positive ways, including picking fights with siblings or acting out at school,” she says.
Ultimately, “our goal [as parents] is to convey unconditional love through focused attention with clear limits and boundaries that will allow them to tolerate the inevitable breaks in our attention,” Dr. Kauffman adds. The balance will help them understand that there will be times when they can have your full attention—and times when they won’t.
Tricky? Yes, but doable. Here are six simple but powerful ways to make each of your children feel like a VIP.
Make eye contact. We may believe we can listen to what our kid is saying while we dash off a work e-mail, but in reality, dividing your attention can make your child feel like you’re placing her second. So the next time she wants to talk to you, put down what you’re doing and give your child your full eye contact and complete attention. Ask a question or two that shows you’re truly listening and are present. If you can’t drop what you’re doing at that moment, say so. Ask your child to give you a moment to wrap up your task, then be sure to follow up with her, Dr. Kauffman says.
Spend some uninterrupted time together every day. You don’t need to carve out large chunks of time; even 10 minutes a day is okay. Let your child decide what you do together and, if possible, turn the phone off or—better yet—leave it in another room so you’re not tempted to check your Twitter feed.
Ask caring questions. Go beyond the generic “How was school?” conversation and instead ask your kids pointed questions that show you’re invested in what’s going on in their lives, Dr. Kauffman says. For example, ask them about their spelling test or what happened on their favorite TV show.
Create meaningful traditions. No need to construct anything elaborate; this is really about spending quality, one-on-one time together and creating lasting memories. Get in the kitchen with your child and make a pancake breakfast for the family on Sundays. Set a monthly date where you treat your kid to a favorite treat and an hour at the playground. Invite your child to accompany you to your standing salon appointment, and stay for mani-pedis afterward. Such simple traditions can go a long way toward building that special parent-child connection.
Be affectionate. A kiss on the cheek, a bear hug before bedtime—showing your affection makes kids feel loved. Not a “hugging” family? Create your own special handshake or come up with a fun code word with each kid.
Love what they love. Sure, you’re probably not as excited about the newest collection of Shopkins as they are, but loving what your kids love is a great way to show they’re important to you. Listen with enthusiasm as they explain the inner workings of their Lego castle, and make yourself available to help foster their hobby. Dr. Kauffman says sharing in your children’s passions not only helps them feel supported, it also allows them to “feel they are important enough to dedicate your valuable time to them.”
ry D. Rosen
Kids usually start out as these little blobs that parrot what you do. The parroting gives you a false idea that you are able to control the personality that forms. Somewhere down the line though, they begin to stitch together their own pathways; ones that you never imagined before becoming their parent. That is when it really starts to become obvious that this kid is an actual separate person—and sometimes that means they are completely different than you are.
Uh-oh! If you are like me, you panic a small amount. And that’s because you realize it’s not always easy to parent children who are your polar opposite. Growing up, I was what some might call a “tomboy.” That’s probably because I had a big brother and we lived out in the country for a bit where there were no girls to play with. I had to hang tough to be able to follow him around. But my two daughters, now 9 and 7, are far different than I was at their age.
I watch them pretend to be princesses and remember how much I loved playing football, which had clear-cut rules. I see them destroy my makeup as they try to apply it and think how much easier (and cheaper) it would be if they wanted to go look for bugs in the field like I did when I was their age. A little bit of me comes out when they refuse to brush their hair. Then they decide to have a dance party “just because,” and our stark differences are so apparent yet again.
The rules for the games they want to play are arbitrary and I can’t ever win. If I throw out suggestions for things Ken could talk to Barbie about beyond her looks, I’m shut down. When I suggest that maybe the castle could benefit from a strong knight (played by myself), I’m told that I can be a witch (type casting, obviously). When I beg them to play catch with me, they grow bored so quickly and I feel like the little sister again that is begging someone to do what I want to do for once!
I watch them pretend to be princesses and remember how much I loved playing football. A little bit of me comes out when they refuse to brush their hair. Then they decide to have a dance party “just because,” and our stark differences are so apparent yet again.
My girls have also developed talents that could not be further from my own. One sings like an angel, meanwhile, my children began at an early age asking me politely not to sing them to sleep. And the other is a gymnast when I can’t even touch my toes while stretching. Is it possible to have two children switched at birth? Probably not, I know.
Add their friendships into the equation and the differences are even greater. There are disagreements and a lot of hurt feelings. This didn’t happen with the groups I played with. I was running on the field, so my kid-arguments revolved around a bad play and usually ended with someone taking the ball and heading home.
Then there’s also the fighting that goes on between them. They sometimes get physical and they get mean. Small disagreements about the pronunciation of words turn into full-blown crying fits and declarations of wishing they didn’t have a sister. It’s really hard to relate to the outbursts, which sometimes end as quickly as they begin, and other times go on for hours.
And yet, as I’ve spent so much time struggling to understand my daughters’ love for fairytales, choreographed routines, and colorful clothes, I’ve really come to admire how opposite they are from me, especially when it comes to their openness. My girls have coping skills I never had at their age. They aren’t holding in their feelings; when they are worried, upset, or angry, they let it show. They signal they need help. When their friend hurts their feelings, they tell me. This is a blessing because I know that they are being taken care of, and I can make sure they are not walking through it all alone. It’s also a curse because I want to track down the people that hurt my babies and make them stop. (I can’t do that though because they have to learn to deal with things on their own — that’s a little advice I received from my adult friends).
I have watched my girls and learned things that have made me a better person. I have found that I can be braver. I can watch my daughter sing on stage without fear and push myself to face my own fears. I see that it’s OK to confide in people. It’s OK to be angry, but resolving it is important, too.
I admit, I’ve spent a lot of time contrasting their interests and problems to mine when I was their age. And I’ve spent time wishing they shared my interests. But as I see the people they are becoming, I realize more and more what a waste of time that has been. They have bright futures ahead of them and that has nothing to do with how similar or different than me they are. They have parents that care as I did. That will always be something we have in common.
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