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What Prompted Me To Write This Post
As a mother of two, I come across situations like these almost all the time in my house:
Me to my first one: Oh! You’ve done this painting so well, dear! It looks so real and natural.
My second one: And me? Haven’t I done anything praiseworthy? (sad face).
This is just one of the numerous situations I face all day long. And trust me, it’s always only the situation that’s different. The complaining, feeling bad, and competitive sibling rivalry mode remains constant nearly all the time.
Who’s to be blamed? Actually, no one. These are just kids, each desperately wanting a larger slice of their mom’s love all the time. And because they know mom’s praise is a reflection of her love, they each want to grab the maximum (or at least an equal) portion of it whenever given a chance. Simple!
Let’s not forget here that sibling competition or rivalry, as more commonly put, is extremely natural the instant the second child comes into the first one’s life. Not to mention, this feeling keeps getting fueled when there are more than 2 children added to the family.
It may sometimes be the older one feeling left out (when there are 2); in case of 3 kids, the middle one may start feeling neglected (for the oldest and the youngest usually become attention-grabbers).
In this case then, the responsibility lies over us parents to handle the situation tactfully, most importantly, right. In a way that’s right and fair to all the kids. Why? Because any seemingly small wrong move here can have (more often than not) some unexpected and absolutely undesirable results for either or all of the kids.
So, What’s The Problem In Praising One In Front Of The Other?
It’s not just one problem but many that may arise from something which seems as plain, simple and natural to any parent. Let’s look at some of the glaring ones just right off the bat:
The older or oldest sibling may start experiencing a feeling of dejection; the same may be the case sometimes with the younger child(ren) too.
The other sibling who doesn’t get enough praise may slowly start losing self-confidence, not considering themselves worthy enough of accomplishing anything major in life.
The child may start getting reserved, shying away from family gatherings, even their own parents at times.
There’s a big chance of a “rivalry” sort of feeling coming in between the two siblings, which may lead to bitterness in their relationship in the future.
Any or all of the above isn’t desirable for any parent. But unfortunately, these situations are real. They happen with children, and often, we may fail to realize why and how because what seems so natural to us sometimes may have disastrous effects on a child’s psychology. It may sound a bit scary (and it is, undoubtedly) but thankfully it can be prevented and sorted out in time. All it needs is a bit of awareness and tact.
Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring - quite often the hard way - Pamela Dugdale.
How To Praise Your Children Right?
I know it sounds like such a simple and natural thing that nobody would want to learn how to praise their child. It’s your child and you have every right to praise them for anything under the sky, whenever, how much ever, and how many times ever. Totally acceptable.
The problem arises when there is more than one child in question to tackle with. More often than not, the other one (who isn’t praised just as enough or often) may start showing problem signs (as described above). That’s when tact becomes the need of the hour.
So what is it that you should actually be doing whenever you feel like praising your child for their efforts? Here are a few simple things to keep in mind that could help. Some of these are from my own experience in the motherhood journey:
1. Praise both or all of the kids equally, consciously
I got a chance to witness sibling competition at its best and this is one thing I can vouch for, almost blindly! The safest bet to go for when dealing with 2 kids (even more) is to make a conscious attempt (nearly each time) to praise both or all of your kids equally. I call it the safest bet because that’s what’s going to help maintain peace in your household, not to forget, keep your sanity alive.
So this is how it goes. You praise child A, almost spontaneously, at some achievement of theirs, not realizing that child B is standing there, keenly hearing it all, particularly noting your “reaction” (change of facial expressions and body gestures).
If child B is quite vocal about their feelings, he/she is very likely to promptly pop in a “Hey! What about me? I did this too, today! How come you didn’t say anything to me?” But if child B is slightly timid in nature and not too expressive, they may just keep quiet, all the way feeling bad, piling up emotions like disappointment and sadness in their mind for a long time to come.
The best way to prevent any of these - be quick to say a word or two of praise to child B too, almost immediately when you say good things about child A. It may not be necessary that child B has done anything of great value but it’d really mean too much to the latter hearing the praise from you.
2. Have a one-on-one talk time with each child, separately
It may not always be possible at all times to actually praise both or all of the siblings. Yes, you need to be aware definitely (it helps) but it shouldn’t be overdone either. Hence, make sure you spend a few minutes in the day, having detailed discussions with each of the children about what they’ve been doing, any achievements at school or otherwise, etc.
This would give you a chance to say whatever you feel like to each child, separately, alone. Most important, each child would feel special too, sharing their achievements with you and being the “only one” to get your praise and love. However, remember to do this individually with all the other children as well.
3. Avoid playing favorites; it doesn’t help anyone
I know it’s only natural and human to like one child over the other, even though they all are your own kids. In most cases, the oldest child is often the apple of the eye of the parents. After all, it was the first-born in the family and obviously lucky to have gotten a major chunk of all the love.
In some other cases, the youngest one may be the lucky recipient for a lot of reasons. In any case, despite what you may be feeling naturally, try and avoid showing out, especially in front of or around your kids. You wouldn’t even realize when and how it may hit the other child and how bad.
4. Encourage the older child to teach the younger ones
This would help promote bonding between the siblings. If the older one has some skill which he/she has acquired at school or otherwise, you can ask them to share the same with their younger siblings. Tell them how good they are at that skill and encourage them by saying, “Why don’t you teach the same to your younger brother or sister?"
Most important, do teach the older child to appreciate the younger one’s efforts after the latter’s done learning from them. Of course, you’d have to make the first move here. Go to the room, look at the art or craft they all have been doing and this time instead of you directly appreciating the younger one’s work, ask the older child how well they think their sibling’s done.
Say a word or two of encouragement to start the conversation and make sure you appreciate the older one’s effort too at teaching their sibling how to do it right. When you do that, the older child feels happy and proud of themselves and naturally starts praising or appreciating the younger sibling’s achievements. A win-win for all.
Remember, it’s very important to train the older ones to encourage, appreciate and praise the younger siblings’ work/efforts. For this, you’d need to start off and they’d replicate your behavior at home. Once this happens, you’d be pleasantly surprised when the older child comes running to show you how well the younger one’s fared at some task and how they helped the latter learn it. Now, that’s something well-achieved, right?
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How Praising Right Helps Each Child In The Family
It boosts the morale and confidence of each of your children, giving them a sense of motivation to keep up the good work.
It fuels a sense of strong trust, love and bonding among the siblings, where the older one starts feeling responsible for teaching all the good stuff to their younger sibling, and the latter starts looking up to the older one as a mini-parent.
The older child naturally feels a sense of insecurity after the second one comes in. When you appreciate each of them equally, they’d start feeling more secure within themselves and around you and would also connect more with you. You’d be able to see the change in their personality and bonding with you in the long term.
Parenting is hard but it’s a beautiful and enriching experience, both for the parents and the children. Yes, it does need you to be aware and alert at all times but if you think of it, it’s only in your child’s favor. A small price to pay for some amazing benefits in the long term - not a bad deal at all!
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