As many of you who have more than one child know, all kids are different. They have different temperaments so they will react to different situations. Parents learn quickly that what may work for one child may not work for the other. My children were totally different also. My daughter was calm, passive; what most would call an "easy" baby and child. She slept all night 2 nights after I brought her home from the hospital and would pretty much "go with the flow." On the other hand, my son tried me a lot! He had colic as a baby and so he received a lot of attention from the beginning. Once the colic was better though, he was a pretty good baby and slept well. As he grew up though, he was much more challenging and would try me to the limits. I found out soon that with my daughter, all you had to do was give her a look if she was doing something she shouldn't and she would stop. Not with my son at all. It took a lot of redirecting and a lot of sitting in his room to think about how much he had upset me or whoever else had gotten in his way. As he grew, he also had a quick temper, said what was on his mind, and got over it quickly. My daughter, however, held things in; only to explode over something little, when in fact, something else was bothering her. My son is like me; and my daughter like my husband, but very different from each other indeed. Parenting.com offers some great information for those who have "different" children.
Schedules - Your younger child may thrive on a very strict schedule, while his older sibling is good at rolling with the punches. Fussy personality types are common. Some kids need more regularity than others; they're hungry at the same time every day, they go to bed at the same time, and they fall apart when you mess with any of it. When you need to choose between your kids' competing agendas, oil your squeaky wheel first. If that means your easygoing child has to cut short a playdate because his sensitive sibling needs to eat lunch at 11:30, don't sweat it: all kids tend to thrive on a routine. But make an effort to compromise whenever possible and be fair. 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 Billy's nap, but we'll rent one instead that you and I can watch together."
Temperaments - One of your two children is totally cooperative and agreeable, while the other one seems to fight you at every turn. If nurture trumps nature, how is it possible to have one child who leaps at every chance to earn a sticker and another who couldn't care less how many gold stars he needs to log before you'll take him to the amusement park? The answer is that nature is a powerful force. Even if you bring up your kids the same way, their varying temperaments will become clear by around age 2. A father of two said his 2-year-old son would consistently test the boundaries in a way that his 4-year-old daughter never had. Time-outs with son would only work if he would sit with him and let him know how angry he was by refusing to engage him. Whereas his daughter would sit as if she was glued to the chair until she was released. Then she would apologize and want a "magic hug." Sounds exactly like my two kids. 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. He may just need a tighter leash than his sibling does. And if incentives aren't getting him to clean up his toys, you may have to take away his Legos for a day. Figure out what works for each child, and go with it.
Needs - Is it right to let one kid demand more of you? There's no need to feel guilty about it. Children require different things to feel secure, whether it's talking to you all day or a dose of nighttime cuddling. Your job is to give each of them what they need. Age can be another factor in the attention equation. A toddler who's constantly pulling out the plugs or scaling the bookcase is bound to take up more of your time than a 6-year-old who colors quietly on her own for 30 minutes. But some kids are simply wired to be high maintenance, regardless of their birth order or developmental stage. 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.
Playing Fair Always remember though you love your children the same and you want them to know that also. When you take a different approach with each kid, help them realize that you're not playing favorites. Don't Compare Them making comments like, "Why can't you listen the way your sister does?" can undermine the sense that you have equal love for every child. Never Withhold Affection even though one child may be a breeze while another is a veritable hurricane. Always spread out the "I love yous" evenly. Adjust Your Standards - It's easy to over praise an agreeable kid and ignore his argumentative sibling. Find nice things to say about everyone's progress - even if you have to look a little harder.
Sue Junge is an Early Childhood Support Specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don't necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit www.iowarivervalleyeca.org .