After the birth of my first son, Ryder, I felt like I was truly getting the hang of this whole parenting thing. I was like, “Ya, I got this.”
I had honed and mastered my parenting skills on this adorable little being. I was a sleep-training guru, I had figured out how to get him to eat from all five food groups, and I quickly realized that a 2-year-old should not be the dictator of the entire household with a swift “I wanted the blue cup, not the red one!”
I knew what worked and didn’t work with this sensitive, cerebral and gentle kiddo.
When baby #2 arrived, I didn’t sweat it. I knew I was a pro at this already and had learned all the skills and made all the mistakes with my first little guy, so I figured I’d be even better at mommy’ing the second time around.
Nope. Not the case. Not at all.
My baby, Asher, arrived into the world with an opinion and a very loud scream to communicate it. He’s the kind of kid who knows what he wants, will ask for it, and if he doesn’t get it, well, run for cover and get some ear plugs (for the neighbors, too.)
Seriously?! I had to learn a whole new way to raise this kid after I had spent two years perfecting my parenting style?
After I got over the shock, I set about honing a new set of skills that would work with my little one.
Here are some of my tips and tricks I’ve learned through (much) trial and (definitely) error on how to cater your parenting style to suit your children’s different personalities. And these can work whether you have one kiddo or multiple kids.
1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
-My boys have such different personality types and as I am getting to know them better, I am learning that just like with adults, you have to know who you are dealing with. With my older son, a tense situation can be mitigated with a few tickles or a funny joke.
-With my younger kid, he needs 20 minutes alone to cry it out and then it all diffuses and he’s OK again.
2. DIFFERENT CONSEQUENCES WORK FOR DIFFERENT KIDS
-There is no hard and fast consequence that works on all kids. Time-outs are effective, but kids have to understand why they are in a time-out and it has to be something they don’t actually enjoy so they won’t repeat the behavior that put them in time-out in the first place.
-My older son feels so bad when he gets a time-out. I also make sure to do it immediately after said behavior. For example, Ryder pushes Asher, Ryder gets a four-minute time-out in his room. Ryder hates to miss the fun and wants to be around everyone, so a time-out is super effective for him.
-Asher, on the other hand, could care less if I give him a time-out. The best consequence for him is to take something away. Asher spits at his big brother and Asher gets his Lego taken away for the afternoon. I also give a kid like Asher who is super impulsive three chances, and if he can’t get it right, then I follow through with the consequence.
-You HAVE TO follow through. I’ve learned that the hard way. Kids are smart. And I’m a softie. They only listen to me if they know I’m strong enough to follow through.
3. SET MORE LIMITS FOR THE LIMIT PUSHER
-I don’t have to consciously set a lot of limits with my older kid. Ryder is a rule follower by nature and wants to get it right, so I tend to set goals for him and create job lists for him to follow. He gets a real sense of pride when he accomplishes them. Examples can be a job chart for the morning: brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, etc.
-With Asher I have to start the day and map out the limits for it. If it is a weekday, I walk him through each activity and tell him who will be taking him. Before we get somewhere, I talk about the rules, like no screaming in public places and using his words to ask for what he wants instead of his opera-level shriek, or if he doesn’t participate in gym class we have to leave—things like that. This really helps him because he knows the boundaries and what to expect and the consequence that will follow. This is a great strategy for a kid who is not a rule follower.
4. USE “WE” A LOT
-The same scenario plays out most mornings: The boys are hanging out in my bed before we have to get ready for school and one of them (usually my little one) instigates, then lots of screaming, wrestling and crying ensue. It would be very easy to always point the finger at the kid who’s the instigator, but I know Ryder also does his part to rile up his little brother. I speak to them as a unit. “We don’t push our brother,” “We don’t name call,” etc. I think this negates the sibling rivalry and the labelling of the good kid vs. bad kid. The kids listen well to this and I feel the use of “we” creates a team mentality, which is the type of relationship I want to nurture between them.
5. LISTEN TO YOUR KID
-I try really hard to follow this one. My boys express themselves so differently and I had to learn how to really listen to them in their own unique ways of communicating. Ryder tends to give more physical cues, whereas Asher literally says exactly what he feels and wants.
-If you REALLY listen, kids will tell you a lot, and it makes it so much easier to resolve whatever it is that is going on. Whether I cut their toast the wrong way or I put them in a shirt that has an itchy tag, there is usually a very rational reason they are upset.
6. KNOW YOUR KID’S LISTENING STYLE
-Some kids are more tactile and do well with you getting down on their level and looking them in the eye and talking to them. I do this with my older son. The physical connection comforts him and makes him feel safe. On the contrary, some kids don’t want to be touched at all when they are upset, and touching them will just set them off even more.
Some kids just want to be heard. You can reinforce how they are feeling by saying things like, “I know, you really wanted to stand and jump on the bed, but that’s not safe for your body so mommy can’t let you do that.” Let them have their big feelings and just be there and talk them through it.
-Redirection works well with one of my boys but not with the other.
-Similarly, giving choices to my little one really helps him because it gives him a sense of control. For example, I pick out three shirts every morning and let him choose from that selection. This does not work with my older kiddo because he gets too overwhelmed—he wants me to set that limit for him.
7. DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP
-Seriously, don’t. We are all fumbling around in this crazy journey of parenthood and having just one kid to learn about and understand is tough. Throw one or more kids into that equation and it’s like managing a team of 40 millennial employees, each with their own needs, wants and opinions. I’m still reeling from the fact that I have to relearn this all over again with my second kiddo.
*Edited by Ella Stewart