Children can accept the concept that age has privilege

INSIGHTS

May 29, 1994|By BEVERLY MILLS

Child Life is a forum for parents to ask child-rearing questions and share tips with other parents. Call our answering machine with any advice or questions you have. Please check the end of the column for the toll-free number and today's question from a parent who needs your help.

Q: My 5-year-old daughter thinks she should get to do everything her 8-year-old sister gets to do. It's hard to treat them differently, but shouldn't some privileges come with age? How do other parents handle this?

A: The 5-year-old may not like it when the 8-year-old gets to stay up an hour later or cross the street alone, but she's not going to harbor resentment if her parents take the time to explain that certain privileges and responsibilities come with age.

That's one of the conclusions of a five-year study of parent-child and sibling relationships just completed at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

"If children understand the reason why they are being treated differently to be because of age or because it was something the other child earned, it does not increase aggression or sibling rivalry," says Carol MacKimmon-Lewis, Ph.D., head of the study:

"Children do have the capacity to understand reasoning and logic, even if they don't appear to go along with it. So it's important for parents to provide that so children don't think they are being treated differently because you love one child more."

The age explanation works well for Stephani Paladino of Phoenix, Ariz., whose boys are 8, 5 and 3.

"Each year they get to do a little more, and they all have to wait until they're a certain age for things like staying up late, allowances and going around the block," Ms. Paladino says.

It's only natural for the younger child to demand equal treatment, says Lorraine Nadelman, a child-development specialist and associate professor emeritus of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

"Make it clear that the younger one will get to do that at a certain age and then go ahead and set the appropriate limits," Ms. Nadelman says. "It's all a question of the parents' confidence."

Parents who fall into the trap of always granting equal privileges to the younger child run the risk of alienating the older one.

A parent from Stone Mountain, Ga., points out that along with the privileges come responsibilities.

"An 8-year-old should also have more complicated chores that a 5-year-old does," Susan Mistretta says. "It teaches both children."

These steps can also reduce competition over privileges and rivalry in general:

* Never compare children, even in a subtle way, Ms. Lewis says.

* Pay attention to and develop each child's unique strengths.

* Each parent should spend some time alone with each child.

"Even 15 minutes a day will decrease rivalry," Ms. Lewis says.

While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband currently live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.

CAN YOU HELP?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

* Difficult daughter: "My 12-year-old daughter is alwayhumiliating me," says Mary Friedman of Suffolk, N.Y. "She's sarcastic and doesn't give me a chance to be a good parent. What can I do?"

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