As a child, I was convinced my mom loved my brother more than she loved my sister and me. Why? Because she parented him differently. The three of us were (and still are) VERY different. My sister and I were relatively easy to parent. We were both anxious people-pleasers, yet funnily enough, we did it in totally different ways.
Our brother was the opposite. “Me, myself and I,” was the motto he followed as a child and teen. And our family home wasn’t fun with the battles that occurred.
I vowed to treat my children the same so things would be fair. So they’d both feel they were loved equally.
When I became a mum of two, I realised that treating your children the same is impossible.
Well, not impossible. Of course, you can treat your children the same. Many people do.
If you’re treating your children the same and family life feels like a parent vs child battlefield, with raging sibling rivalry thrown in for added “fun”, I encourage you to read on.
A one-size-fits-all approach is likely at fault. ESPECIALLY if children struggle to manage their emotions and behaviour. I’ll explain why in this post and what you can do to parent in a way that children will see as fair and being treated the same.
Confused yet? You can’t use a one-size-fits-all parenting approach, but you can still parent them in a way that’s fair and treats them equally?
Let’s dive in and all will become clear!
Fact 1: One-size-fits-all parenting approaches ignores the fact we’re all unique
Have you ever played a game of “I spy?” You know, where someone gives a clue to what they spotted, whether it be a colour, a sound, or a letter, and everyone tries to guess what the thing is? If there are enough options, there’s a good chance that everyone will shout out something different.
Why? Because we all focus on different things.
The world is full of information, and our brains can handle only so much. We’d be way too overwhelmed if every piece of information from the world around us came in, so our brains filter out what it thinks we don’t need.
We have lots of filters. Some we’re aware of, and others we aren’t.
The first way we filter information is from our senses.
We all have different likes and dislikes, as well as sensitivity levels.
So in our game of “I Spy,” the clue might be something red.
But if I can’t tolerate the colour red (which I may or may not be aware of) but love the colour yellow, it’s going to be hard for me to focus on red things. Everything yellow will be jumping out at me, and I need to work hard to ignore them to focus on red things. Now, if I’m sensitive to smells and sounds, my brain will be taking all that in, making it even harder to spot red things.
The result? I’m way too slow and lose that round. I don’t lose because I’m terrible at the game, but because my brain focused on things that matter to me. Which are different to what matters to the winner of the round.
Our senses are more important than people think, which is why it’s a core part of what I teach. If you want to understand your child deeply, you must learn how they view the world. That starts with their senses.
Still with me? I hope so.
Other filters we have include language, your memories, your experiences, your values and beliefs, and your attitude.
A lot of these develop in childhood, but they aren’t fixed for life. They can change depending on your life experience. For example, your language and memories.
Some, however, are really stubborn and can be hard to change, like your values, beliefs and attitudes. These tend to come from the people around you. You can change them, but first, you need to know they are there. Then you need to want to change them.
So you see, no one sees the world in the exact same way. How you view the world will influence what you pay attention to, how you understand things, and how you interact with your world.
One-size-fits-all approaches ignore all of this. They assume that we’re a carbon copy of each other. That’s one reason why it doesn’t work for so many families.
The first step to happier, more confident and resilient children is understanding their uniqueness. From there, you can move on to the next factor that makes us unique. Our needs.
Fact 2: One-size-fits-all parenting approaches ignores the fact we’re different in how and when our needs must be met
Abraham Maslow, an American Psychologist, believed that all humans strive to be their best selves living their best lives. He called it self-actualisation.
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory, self-actualisation sits at the top of a 5-tier pyramid. The idea being that to win at this game of life (i.e. become our best selves living our best lives), you need to have all the needs in the bottom levels met. These needs are universal.
We ALL need to eat, drink, sleep, and stay warm (examples of Physical Needs). We ALL need to know what’s happening, have some control over our lives, and be physically safe (examples of Safety Needs). We ALL need to feel seen, heard, understood and loved unconditionally (examples of Love & Belonging Needs). And we ALL need to feel like we’re good at something and that people appreciate us (examples of Esteem Needs).
An approach where we eat at the same time, go to bed at the same time, have the same amount of cuddles, do the same activities means everyone’s needs are met, right? We will behave wonderfully, be happy and go on to do amazing things in life, right?
It doesn’t work that way.
Parenting is hard because while we all have the same needs, we are different in when these needs aren’t met, how they get met, and which needs get depleted more often than others. Part of that is our genetic make-up. Metabolism, for example, will determine what foods and how often someone needs to eat.
Routines that suit one person won’t suit another because physical and safety needs aren’t identical to each child. Behaviour strategies that follow a “when that happens, this is what you must do” doesn’t work because each child differs in how they learn and how important connection and belonging is to them. Each child will also differ in whether their esteem needs are met.
For example, Gina hates school. She struggles to sit still, finds math hard, so chats and is disruptive in class. She thinks everyone hates her. She thinks she’s stupid and does nothing right because she never gets Golden Time on Fridays, and the teacher is always telling her to stop talking and concentrate.
Tim, on the other hand, loves school. He finds sitting and doing work in class easy. He feels he belongs and is admired because he gets praise and positive attention from teachers and peers.
When Tim gets told off at home after a day at school, he’s so full up from his needs being met that it only takes a tiny bit away from feeling good.
Gina, on the other hand, is running on empty. So one small comment at home will send her into a meltdown.
When we understand which unmet needs are triggering behaviour, we stop wasting our time trying to stop behaviour. We use our time wisely and make sure we meet those needs so our children are filled up and can take the knocks of life. Over time, they’ll be able to meet their own needs.
That’s how you raise happy, confident and resilient children. But to meet your child’s needs, you need to develop a deep understanding of their uniqueness as well as their strengths and difficulties.
The final piece of the puzzle lies in the fact that we all have our own strengths and difficulties, and we develop in our own time.
Fact 3: One-size-fits-all parenting approaches ignores the fact we all get to where we need to be in our own time
My eldest crawled at 6 months, walked independently at 10 months (he was running by 12 months), and had conversations by 24 months. My youngest was probably about 8 months old when he crawled, walked independently with confidence at 15 months, and engaged in typical toddler conversations at 24 months. Was my eldest a genius? Was my youngest a bit slow?
No. They were where they needed to be in their development.
Developmental norms are more of a guide of what to expect rather than something to worry about. Of course, if your child is 3 years old and isn’t walking or isn’t saying any words at all, you would want to get them seen to get extra support. What I mean is that we shouldn’t be comparing our children to others because what’s “normal” varies greatly.
It’s also important to note that development doesn’t stop after reaching our physical and language milestones. To become an adult, there are tons of skills we need to learn. For example:
- the ability to control our impulses (typically develops between 5-7 years of age)
- the ability to reason (typically develops around the age of 7)
- the ability to think rationally (typically develops around 25 years of age – yes, 25! Not 2 or 5!)
- and so many more!
Another thing to consider is that we don’t just develop at our own rate, but we all learn differently.
I’m very visual. I do not have an Audible account or listen to Podcasts. Why? I don’t like them! If I don’t see something, it doesn’t get absorbed into my brain. I also need to interact with new information, such as making notes or drawing diagrams, to merge new information with what I already know. I have examples and stories for pretty much everything I teach. And that’s because it’s how I make sense of things.
That’s my learning style.
I know many people who can’t take information in reading (my preferred method of learning). They need to listen or watch a video.
Children are no different.
If you’ve got a visual child and you’re telling them to do things over and over and over again, and they aren’t doing it, they might not be learning because it’s not their learning style.
As parents, we concentrate so much on what kids SHOULD be able to do, we forget that if they could do it right now, they would! We need to know where they are NOW to teach them to do the things they “should” be able to do.
Saying that it’s important to remember that not everyone is meant to be a Doctor or a Fireman. They’ll find their own way when you understand them and support them to be who they are meant to be.
Fairness and equality IS possible with understanding, connection, empathy and support
Children have a strong sense of fairness.
They may bend it in their favour, sure. This is why it’s so important to treat children as individuals and follow a more child-led way of parenting.
How does one do this?
Take some interest in what your child loves to do. Get to know their world by watching them play. Listen when they talk. All of this will show you how they understand the world and the ways they like to interact with it. It’ll also show you what their strengths and difficulties are.
2. Connection and empathy
Instead of teaching them how to behave by ignoring, time out, consequences, etc., take time to connect with them. Listen to their side of the story. Show them empathy by letting them know you see and hear them. You understand they’re upset, angry, and so on. No lectures, just be there for them.
3. Support them
Supporting includes meeting their needs, finding ways to have them use their strengths as much as possible and skilling them up in the areas they struggle with. Did you punish your baby because they couldn’t crawl at 6 months? Or talk at 12 months? Of course not! You comforted them when they fell or didn’t get it right. You supported them until they learned the new skills. You celebrated the tiniest of progress. If your child’s struggling with their emotions and behaviour, they still need that from you. Give it to them.
Parenting using understanding, connection and empathy, and support creates a family environment that’s fair and equal while allowing each child to be themselves. This will enable them to feel loved and understood, which makes behaving “well” much easier.
Try it and let me know in the comments how it went for you. I know my clients wouldn’t go back to their old ways!