How to parent more than one child and keep rules and privileges age appropriate for each child. Keep children in the funnel.
To parent inside the funnel means that you are giving your child enough freedoms and also not too many freedoms. Your child is allowed to make decisions appropriate to his/her age but not more than she can handle without getting wise in her own eyes.
Parenting in the funnel is not always easy. It can be tricky to find the right balance of freedoms.
Read: How to Set Boundaries for Children
Facts on Setting Boundaries with Siblings
Parenting inside the funnel can be trickier when you have more than one child to consider. By the time you have two children, you are familiar with the concept of the funnel, but in case not or you need a refresher course, you can see How to Know What Freedoms to Give Baby or review any of your -Wise books.
So why is it trickier to parent in the funnel with more than one child? Here are some reasons I have found:
Your attention is spread out more. When you have one child to think about, it is easier to focus on that one child and analyze every reaction and action of that child. The more children you have to think about, the more likely you will miss things. Hopefully your experience will help balance this out, though.
Your time is spread out more. You might be tempted to let one or more of the children do things they aren’t ready for because you don’t have as much time as you would like in the day. Correcting takes time.
Your energy is spread out more. You also need to allocate your energy among the children. Correcting takes time, but it also takes energy. Sometimes you might find yourself wanting to say, “whatever, just do it,” even when you know it is not something your child is ready for. I have even had grandmothers tell me with a chuckle that after several children they just let them parent themselves because they were so tired.
You want to be fair. 4-year-old Jimmy gets to do X, and you just know that 2-year-old Suzy is going to be really upset if she doesn’t get to do what older brother does. Younger siblings love to emulate their older siblings. Or perhaps Suzy does not have the same sitting still requirements as Jimmy, but you don’t want Jimmy to feel picked on so you allow him to get away with things he shouldn’t be getting away with.
You parent emotions. I have found that my younger daughter often gets upset when her older brother is disciplined. I am not talking about any kind of huge discipline tactic. Even just me giving him the look and speaking firmly is enough to upset her. Some parents might choose to not discipline in order to avoid upsetting a sibling. Some parents avoid letting their baby fuss before a nap because it makes the older sibling upset.
You expect too much. I remember when I got home from the hospital after giving birth to my second child. I looked at my oldest and thought, “You are huge!” It is easy to compare the oldest or older children to the youngest and expect more than is appropriate of him.
You expect too little. Conversely, we can often expect too little of our youngest and younger children. My daughter is a couple of weeks shy of the age my son was when she was born. He seemed so old to me at the time, and she seems like a little baby still because I have him to compare her to at the moment. When I think about it, I realize that in many ways she actually acts older than he did at this age (for example, her verbal skills are beyond what his were at this age). I am sure that in about two months when we welcome our third child, she will suddenly seem a lot older.
How to Keep Boundaries Appropriate for Each Child
We have our reasons and temptations for not parenting in the funnel. Let me now implore you to parent in the funnel for all of your children. Here are some ways to keep things age-appropriate for each child.
Compartmentalize each child. You might do well to picture a funnel for each child. If not, at least realize that each child is in a different location in the funnel. I would imagine it is possible for even twins to be in different locations in a funnel, but for sure two siblings who do not share the same birthday and year are going to be in drastically different places in the funnel.
Take the time to think through the status of each child. Involve your spouse in this. If Dad is away all day, he is more removed from the situation and can have valuable insight into changes that are happening in behavior. Talking things over with your spouse will help you work things out in your head. This can be done during couch time or before you go to bed (or any other time of day that works for you).
Keep notes of expectations. It is very easy to expect more from an oldest child and less from a youngest. You might expect your oldest child to be able to sit still during church at 4 but still allow your youngest child to be fidgety at age 7. Keeping notes can help you keep expectations in check. We can’t always help expecting more of the oldest, but we can help not expecting enough of younger children.
Each child is unique, so while your second child may have been able to handle picking out her own shirt starting at age 3, your third child might not be ready until 3.5 or 4. But if your third child is 6 and still not picking out her own shirt, it may be time to reevaluate
Spend time alone with each child. Work slots into your schedule each day for time alone with each child. Allot the amount of time you can as appropriate. This can give you the opportunity to focus on that one child and her needs. You might do this while one child is in independent play, taking a nap, or at preschool.
Take time for yourself. Take responsibility for yourself and be sure to get enough sleep at night so your mind can be fresh and focused. Take nights off to spend time alone, with friends, doing service, and having date nights with your spouse. Have friends over so you can have fun with them and get back in touch with yourself. This can help you to have the energy and motivation you need to focus on your children’s needs. It also reminds everyone in the family that the child and children are not the center of the universe. Just a part of it.
Remember fair isn’t equal. Don’t hold back privileges from Jimmy just because Suzy would want to do it, too. As your child gets older and starts to compare himself to his friends, he will want to have the “privileges” they do. Chances are many of those friends will have privileges you don’t think are appropriate. Teaching your child from a young age that each person needs to earn privileges can help alleviate the disappointment of 7-year-old Suzy when she doesn’t get her own cell phone. Denying privileges to an older sibling will eventually cause developmental frustration to develop in the older child. Privileges are not a “one-size-fits-all” for the family. Each child is an individual.
Remember children live up to expectations. You also don’t want to hold back expectations from Jimmy just because Suzy isn’t ready to live up to those same expectations. Jimmy is older and will have different responsibilities than Suzy will. You also don’t want to expect more from Suzy than she can give. Just as privileges aren’t one-size-fits-all, neither are responsibilities.
One night when our family was young, we were having a family lesson. Brayden (3.5) is expected to sit still on the couch and remain quiet. Kaitlyn (1.5) is expected to stay in the room and remain quiet. Kaitlyn was standing next to the coffee table. Brayden wanted to get down and I reminded him he needed to sit. He replied, “Because she is younger she does different things?” I explained that she had different responsibilities, but also different privileges. I pointed out things he gets to do because he is older and more able to handle certain freedoms, but that along with those privileges came certain responsibilities.
Don’t parent emotions. You need to do what is best for each child as an individual. Don’t deny training from one child just because other children are uncomfortable with it. When Kaitlyn was sleep training, I explained the reasons we were doing it to Brayden. I also explained that he did the same thing. He was not quite two at the time. He understood, or at least accepted, what I told him. I also did my best to not expose him to her crying. We would go outside with a monitor or do other things to distract him.
Don’t compare your children. I think this is good advice, but it is hard to do. Try to not compare your children. Treat your child as the individual that he is. He has his own strengths, weaknesses, and talents that are unique to him–and they shouldn’t be based on what his siblings are good or not good at. The fact that one child is more advanced in a certain area at a certain age doesn’t make one “ahead” or one “behind.” The only person we should be compared against is ourselves. Are we better today than we were yesterday? Are we living up to our own potential?
As you consider the funnel, keep in mind that parenting outside of the funnel can appear to be easier in the moment, but it always makes things harder in the long-term. If you parent in the funnel, correction and direction are much easier. You know this. You have experienced the consequences, good and bad, of previous funnel parenting. Keep these possible pitfalls in mind as you now parent more than one child.