One of the things we quickly realized is how easily a precedent can be set as a result of decisions made or rules put in place for the oldest child. This is fairly obvious for anyone that grew up in a family with multiple children, but we found that we had to really step back and think about things, not only from the perspective of the decision at hand, but also the possible precedent-setting implications it might have for the younger siblings.
Initial decisions for the oldest child are easily made based on their particular level of maturity and your trust in them, but those conditions might not end up being the same for the younger siblings when they reach the same age – possibly too strict or not strict enough. Changing the rules and standards later causes either the older or younger sibling to feel like they got stiffed.
Many parents naturally err on the conservative side with their oldest child and then loosen up with the others. That usually doesn’t sit well with the oldest. In fact, there were a couple of times when my wife and I realized that we were too conservative with our oldest daughter and wanted to loosen up a bit for our younger children. We actually talked to our oldest about it to get her opinion and input. Just involving her in the decision and admitting that we didn’t have a textbook to guide us through every decision with her was huge.
You might actually be surprised to discover some things you were too liberal on with the oldest and then struggle to find the way to tighten things up a bit for the others.
The idea of setting standards applies to things that come up often enough to actually want a standard to fall back on. It’s also the case that your level of trust at a given point in time with a given child could cause a tightening of the standard. In other words, your standards might be set in such a way that they apply to times when the trust meter is running high with a given child. Deviations in trust, either higher or lower than that, certainly could call for an adjustment in allowances versus the standard.
Below are some things that my wife and I had on our standards list. The list is ordered chronologically based on our kids’ age.
- Bed time
- Allowance amounts and associated duties
- Spending the night with friends
- Movie ratings (allowed to watch)
- Cell phone, social media and Internet usage
- Staying home alone (after school, or when parents out for the night)
- Going out on dates (type, curfew)
- When a boyfriend/girlfriend is at our house
To be honest, there were times when my wife and I couldn’t remember what standard we applied to a certain thing at a certain age. The list served as a valuable reference tool, in that regard.
The main lesson my wife and I learned is to at least give a little extra thought to the precedent-setting implications when making decisions about what is and isn’t allowed. This article focuses on things that come up repeatedly, but the issue could also relate to one-off decisions.
See my other blog posts on parenting here.
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