Do you ever sit back and daydream about life with older children? How life will be so much easier then? Do you look at that grass on that side of the fence and just sigh?
Okay. Life with older children is definitely different than it is with babies. It isn’t necessarily easier, nor is it necessarily harder. It is different. Your take on easy or hard it is will probably vary based on your own personality and the personality of your children. Baby sleep is stressful, but so is the moral (and physical) safety of your child. Here are 9 things for you to know about having older children.
1-You Need to Pay Attention to Them
Pre-teen years are the golden years, at least in my perspective. You don’t have naps. You don’t have very much attitude. Your child still thinks you are the coolest and still is thrilled to spend a Friday night with the family. You have flexibility and yet maintain innocence. It is easy to kind of ignore this age group. Don’t do it! Do not expect your teenager to turn to you when times get tough if you didn’t maintain or build something in the preteen years. Do not pay less attention to them just because you can.
2-You Should Continue to Hug and Kiss Them
One day as I put Brayden to bed, he asked me why I didn’t kiss him on the lips anymore. I hadn’t even realized that had come about. I think we often as adults assume our children are trying to grow up faster than they are trying to, so we step back in an effort to give them space. Keep showing affection for your child. Be the last one to break from a hug; hug long and strong until your child lets go. Hug and kiss unless and until your child asks you not to.
3-You Need to Teach Them to Work
Your older children aren’t likely to ask you to be sure they have chores. They aren’t likely to thank you for giving them jobs around the house to do. When you do give chores, however, they know they are a part of something. They know they contribute to the family and that their contributions matter. They need to learn to work and they need you to teach them by working with them. If your child had to be taught how to use the toilet, you can be sure your child wasn’t born knowing how to clean the toilet. Continually add types of chores to their lives as time passes. They can learn to do the dishes. They can learn to do the laundry. Keep adding available jobs to your child’s repertoire.
4-They Need You To Follow Through On Consequences
You might think you are being super nice when you go back on a consequence, but that leaves children feeling insecure. Sure, if you overreacted and need to tone a punishment back, go for it. Verbally acknowledge that you have decided to change the original consequence. In general, however, give out consequences that are fair and then stick to them.
Something to note is that older children are very capable of helping to think of consequences that are fair. When they do something they shouldn’t, ask your child what would be an appropriate consequence. This often helps them to accept the consequence with grace. I have always found that my children suggest a punishment that is bigger than I would have done myself.
5-Electronics Need to Be Limited
When you let your child play the computer, watch TV, or play apps on the smart phone, your child will be quiet and won’t make a big mess. However, I have found the more screen time a child has, the more he or she is whiny and snaps at siblings and parents. Limit screen time. When you do, your child will find other ways to entertain herself.
6-Your Child Will Do Things on Her/His Own If You Let Him/Her
Try to avoid bailing your child out. If you allow your child to have personal responsibility, she will take it. Just like the preschooler who always has her shirt put on her versus the one who is expected to put the shirt on herself, older children rise up to expectations.
Let’s say she forgets her homework folder at home. You can either run the folder to school or you can not. If you run it to school, you are likely to be hearing a request to bring the homework folder to school again very soon. If you do not, then you likely won’t see the folder sitting forgotten on the counter again, or at least not frequently.
This of course needs to be balanced with grace. I want my children to learn responsibility, but I also want them to learn what grace looks like. I always tell my children that I will help them out when they forget something, but if forgetting becomes a habit, they will be on their own. I am up front about this and they know. Children are humans, and humans make mistakes. They sometimes forget, just like I forget things sometimes. So I want to allow for mistakes to be made and grace to be applied. I don’t want them to neglect learning responsibility, however, and that is where a balance must be struck.
I think every one of my children taps into that grace once or twice each school year, but never more than that. This also helps them to analyze the situation and access real emergencies. Sad that she forgot her library books at home? Yes, but she can bring them back next week. That isn’t an emergency she needs to call me for help with. She won’t get new ones this week, but this isn’t a moment to freak out about and call mom for help.
7-They Need to Be Able To Make Choices
As children get older, we have to give them more control. This is always a balancing act. This is similar to the waketime length mystery of babyhood. What is enough, what is too much, and what is too little? We can’t give too much control, but we can’t maintain all control, either. We have to learn how to let them have appropriate control over their lives. This means things like letting them dress themselves. It means letting them have input and even complete control over what their after-school activities are. The amount of control allowed is a trial and error process. Do your best to guess what is right and adjust as needed. Always remember you are the parent, so you get to be in charge, and you can make changes as needed.
Beyond their need within themselves to make choices, they need to learn how to make choices. This will hopefully be an extension of life as a younger child. Let your child take over making decisions. Be a guide and source of wisdom, but let your child make the choice. This is a great time to let your child make decisions and continue to learn what living with decisions looks like.
8-You Need to Apologize When You Mess Up
You will make mistakes, just like you did when this child was a baby. When you do, apologize. Do so without offering excuses or justifications for why you did what you did. Apologize and ask forgiveness. This teaches your child that you aren’t perfect, which helps your child know she doesn’t have to be perfect, either. It also models to your child how to behave when he/she makes a mistake.
9-Life Doesn’t Get Less Busy With Older Children
I used to dream of when my children would get older and I would have more time. One day I saw the calendar of a mom with preteen and teenage children. I realized that day that life actually only gets busier.
Brinley started having preschool this year, which leaves me with 6 hours a week kid-free. You probably think I have all of this free time now and that I am able to kick back, relax, and nap! I had one friend ask me if I have figured out how to fill that time yet.
The reality is that having those 6 hours kid-free just help me to keep my head above water. I am able to stay on top of all of my commitments and responsibilities without slacking on them. I can do things like sweep the kitchen more than once a week. I have had a cookie or two in those hours over the last six weeks, but I have yet to read a book or chill in any way.
Even though life is busier, for me, I enjoy it more. I like the variety older children bring to the days. While I am a person who loves routine, I enjoy the subtle ways my days are different now that my children are older.
Now you know the secrets. You know what to daydream about. I will tell you, I have loved having older children! It is definitely a time to look forward to and a time to cherish when you are there. Life with younger children also has its wonderful perks that you fully lose when your children are older, so cherish those moments as you can.