One Size Does Not Fit All: Tips for Raising Siblings

My daughter was a slow-to-warm-up baby and a well-behaved toddler. She never hit or pushed, but instead used her words — like the time she famously told me at age three, “Mommy, I don’t like the choices you’re choicing me.”

My son, on the other hand, was a little different. His first word was “no.”

As you may guess, we used different parenting strategies with each of our kids. This is common — often siblings are born with very different temperaments and build different (though equally loving) relationships with their parents. In celebration of National Siblings Day, here are tips to keep in mind as you encounter the challenges, and joys, of raising more than one child:

Pay attention to your children’s temperaments. Understanding and responding to a child’s temperament is key to supporting their development. There are different elements of temperament — including how easily children adapt to change; if they are easily frustrated; how social they tend to be; how active they are; and much more. Every child is different, and this becomes particularly evident while observing the behavior of siblings. Understanding the distinct temperaments of your children will help you learn to better address their needs.

Be flexible with attention. It’s natural for some children to need more attention in different situations. One child might be easy-going when faced with changes, while her sibling may struggle with adjusting to a new classroom at child care. At drop-off, one child may simply want a kiss at the door of their new classroom, while the other may need you to sit with him for a few minutes each day until he feels comfortable. It’s not the same, but you are supporting them in the ways they need.

Create intentional time with each child. Sometimes a child’s temperament makes it easier (or harder) for parents to build a relationship with her. Experiment with finding routines or activities your child enjoys and spend time bonding over them. In my family, my son and I created a game where I throw pillows that he punches away—the superhero defeating the “bad guy” tossing boulders. My daughter enjoys playing board games and often requests “family game night” while my son plays Legos nearby; he has little interest in rules and games where he might lose. While these activities are very different, each child is getting the love and attention they need.

The most important thing a child needs to know is that they are loved and accepted for who they are. With patience and flexibility, you’ll learn your children’s individual personalities and interests. Always remember to notice who your child really is, be willing to adjust your approach, learn from your mistakes and find joy along the way.

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About the Author

Rebecca Parlakian is the senior director of programs for ZERO TO THREE™, where she develops resources for parents and trains both parents and early childhood professionals on a range of education and parenting topics. She holds a master’s degree in education and human development from George Washington University. Her most important and most satisfying work in child development is raising her two children, Ella and Bennett. They help her remember that parenting is hard, but also lots of fun!