One of the challenges I faced as a parent, was the challenge to train the younger ones, when it would be simpler to just get the older ones to do whatever needed doing! Regardless of the age gaps between your kids if you have more than one, you will have an older and younger. You will have at least one child who can do something better than another. It is easy to always call on that person to do a task. Today I’m reflecting back to when my kids were younger and this became an obvious parenting challenge – if you have more than one child – I’m sure this will be a helpful episode.

When you are Parenting more than one Age Group you need to be Intentional

I remember hearing a speaker say that there is a reason the oldest in the family have a larger vocab and a deeper sense of responsibility – it was because parents engaged with their oldest kids differently than they engage with their younger ones.  He went on to tell a story…

He said – when you’ve got one child, you are doing the dishes and your child falls off his bike.  You go over to him, help him dust off, and get back on the bike, meanwhile encouraging him to persevere, keep on trying, and be brave.  But after a few years you have a few kids by now, and the youngest, say the youngest of 4, is learning to ride his bike.  You are doing the dishes and he falls off, you pause, call out to your oldest and ask him to help his brother.  Though the oldest is going to be kind – he isn’t going to be able to speak to his brother’s heart the same as you would – meaning the youngest just missed out on being encouraged to persevere and be brave. When is he going to learn those character based responses?

The Speaker went on to say – it is better to get the older one to do the dishes so you, the parent, who is older and wiser, be free to speak to your younger child’s heart and build up his skills and character.

Though our children pick up a lot by osmosis that isn’t a parenting strategy we can rely on.  Our children, each of our children, need our focus and our attention as we teach them beliefs, character and life skills.  There comes a time when we have to turn our training towards the younger one.  We have to parent our younger children with the same intentionality as we parented our older ones.

 

Today I’m sharing three different situations where we can get our focus mixed up – and not focusing on the right issue or the right child.

Ask the Right Child for the Best Job

One way this plays out is when we need our child to do something for us.  It was always easier to call on Josh to do the heavy lifting, he was the oldest and strongest and I got used to calling on him.  One day I realised Daniel was the same age that Josh was when I had started calling on him for these man-tasks. There was no reason I didn’t call on Daniel – I just got used to calling on Josh.  But it was Daniel who missed out.  

In order to make this shift – so that I used the everyday opportunities to train all of my kids, not just the oldest, I asked myself two questions whenever I was getting ready to ask something of one of my kids:

  • Who is the youngest child who can do this task? or
  • Who will learn the most by being asked to do this?

 

Though there is one other question that I considered:  And that is – do I have time to help this child with this task?  (So I guess that’s 3 questions!) What I’m doing in getting the younger to help me is actually training them and if I don’t have time to do that, there is no point to it, there’ll just be frustration. We must keep in mind that getting our kids to work along side of us, is about them learning new skills. If I am continually asking the older, because I don’t have time to instruct, encourage and support the younger as they learn new skills something is wrong and my work-load needs to be reconsidered.

Give Appropriate Instructions 

It is the same when giving heart-focused instructions.  If we keep giving the same instructions to all our kids as a group, our older ones start switching off or even resenting us; they start thinking that we don’t know and understand that they’ve got this, they know what to do. And there certainly comes a time when they do and we need to give them that responsibility to do the right thing without our prompting or reminding. But do the younger ones? Probably not – they need the instruction but not necessarily the whole family.  So when we give instructions we have to be mindful of the age and stage of each of our children.

When it comes to instructions I see three levels 

  1. Those who know what to do and are characterised by doing it – I need to let them go ahead and do it (though there may be times where you may find it helpful to ask them to report back to you so you know it is done)
  2. Those who you think probably know what to do but you aren’t 100% sure – ask them questions and as they answer you, you can tell what they know, what they need practice on, and where the gaps are. This is a part of transferring from you being responsible to them being responsible.
  3. Those who you know need the instruction (this is because they are characterised by not doing the right thing the right way) – they need instruction and supervision.

 Remember our training falls in three stages: teaching, practicing and then expecting them to do it – or giving them the responsibility. We shouldn’t be giving instruction in that third phase – they know to do it, they need to be allowed to go and do it (and if they don’t, if they are irresponsible, then deal with their bad choices, not the fact that they didn’t know what to do in the first place.)

The Child is not the Boss 

The third situation that I have observed is when you have a very responsible older child that they take over some of the parenting. Though this seems helpful, it is actually not. 

For the older child it creates a sense of responsibility that is not theirs to carry. And for the younger child, it removes the sense of responsibility that they should carry. 

For example – the younger child can conveniently forget what to put in their backpack, and the older one just gets them all organised. This means the younger one never has to think for themselves. Or the younger child will whine about being thirsty and the older will be helpful by getting them a drink, but it means the younger one isn’t pulled up, or corrected about their whining attitude – and neither do they have to problem solve and go get themselves a drink! 

There is a fine line between the older being helpful and caring, and taking over learning opportunities that the parent should be using to train the younger. The reason the older is responsible is because there was never someone older doing things for them when they were younger! 

Once again it is easy to let the older child take on these responsibilities – it is easy for us in the short term but not good for anyone really. Not good for the older child – they get resentful of being depended on, for being relied on to carry a larger load. Not good for the younger – they get lazy and irresponsible and lack many life skills. Not good for the parent cause they aren’t parenting and will one day realise they’ve missed something!

We must remember to parent the younger children as intentionally and as consistently as we parented the older. This is tricky because as we add more children to our family the family dynamics change – but we must keep our eyes on the goal – and that is for each individual child to grow and mature and become a person who is engaged in their community and making morally responsible choices.

Heart-focused Action Step 

So the action step for parents to take this week is to start being aware of how much you depend on your older child or older children instead of teaching the younger ones to do the necessary things.

Observe and take note.

Then little by little, start calling your younger one and teaching them to do the things.

I often said to my kids – when they said – that’s not fair!  

I’d say – you know what, it is actually.  It is fair because I’m giving everyone what they need to do life well.  Isn’t that what you want?   

We need to make sure we make that happen by giving our younger kids the same training opportunities we gave our older ones.

It is Worth the Effort

What you do today, shapes your tomorrow.  If you want your younger child to be as capable as your older child you need to invest in them the same effort.

Take the time to talk to them

Take the time to teach them

Take the time to stretch and challenge them

Take the time to recover from their mistakes

Take the time to encourage them

 

It’s much easier to get the older kids to do all the things because they can – but that only increases their abilities and doesn’t do anything in character or life skills for your younger one.

 

Don’t let the teaching moment slip you by.  Train today for what you want to see tomorrow.

 

What is one thing you could shift from your older to your younger?  Leave a comment – it helps you think about your family, helps another mum with her journey, and it helps me know you’ve read this far!!

Chore time with Different Ages

Chore time is one of the time when we heavily depend on our eldest and let the youngest off lightly.

This only leads to resentment from the older ones and laziness and entitlement from the younger – we don’t want either of those heart responses. So we need to make sure all our children are doing what they are able to do to contribute to the household and learn life skills.

The best way to do this is to teach the oldest one to do a chore that you would otherwise do – focus on them until they can do it unsupervised. Now they can do that and you can train the next child to do something else by working with you.

Young Children can do

  • breakfast dishes
  • wipe the bathroom counter
  • feed the pet
  • empty the bin
  • sort dirty laundry, deliver clean laundry

Learning to do chores is a constant training ground – but so very worth it. The key mindset for a parent to have at chore time is: your role is to train and supervise not to work on your housework chores.

Do you get your kids to do chores? yes or no?

Teach your Child Anything

Parenting is all about teaching our children – and we can do it right – or not.⁠

Here are 4 steps to teach anything – from chores, to music, to sewing, cooking, photography. ⁠

Commit these 4 steps to memory.⁠

They key is patience. Who knows how long each step will take – we have to be prepared to support them as they learn and be patient about it!⁠

What are you teaching your kids at the moment?⁠

Further Reading:

How to be Consistent in Training your Kids when they are all Different: Top Tips for Parents to be consistent in training each individual child; even though it is tricky when there are different ages and different stages. 

The Battle to be a Consistent Parent: Being consistent as a parent is hard. The key to being consistent though is knowing the value of what we are doing. Is it important enough for our efforts?

3 Little Changes that will Make a Big Difference in your Family Life: It’s tempting to make all the changes but that quickly becomes overwhelming – just make these 3 small changes, one at a time to see a difference in your family.

10 Ways Parents make Parenting Harder than it has to be:  These 10 things aren’t hard to correct things – they are the little things that we let slide that make all the difference.

 

 

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