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Different Strokes!

Your children aren't the same—your parenting shouldn't be, either.

If you're the mom of more than one child, you may be tempted to approach parenting with a "one size fits all" mentality—assuming what works for one kid will work for the others. Or you may find yourself comparing your kids to each other, saying things such as, "Why can't you be more (fill in the blank) like your sister/brother?" Through having five children, I've learned firsthand the truth behind that old adage, "Different strokes for different folks." Each of my five kids is unique—and needs to be treated that way. And I've discovered that comparing one child to another only increases sibling rivalry and feelings of favoritism.

Each of your children has special strengths and weaknesses—as do you. So here's how to become a better student of your children's unique personalities and needs.

Study Your Kids

Ask yourself how each of your children is doing in five areas of growth: spiritual, mental, social, emotional, and physical. Is one kid overcommitted? Is another lonely and in need of a friend? Is one child floundering spiritually? What stresses do your children face (academic pressure, friendship struggles, raging hormones)? What else may be impacting your children (family illness, divorce, a move)? Pray as you ask these questions, then write down your observations. Turn these observations into a prayer list for each child this semester. As you do this, you'll find you understand your child better and you'll be more sensitive to his or her unique needs. Pull this list out in June, and see how God's answered your prayers. You'll be encouraged!

Teach Them About Their Gifts

As you study your children, ask God to give you insight into their specific gifts and talents. Perhaps you have a daughter who wears her emotions on her sleeve. Because she's easily hurt, she comes home from school sad when she isn't asked to sit with "the right girls" at lunch. Her tender heart gets broken easily. Chances are, her sensitivity means she's more attuned to others' feelings as well. She may have the gift of compassion.

Introduce your children to positive role models who have the same gifts as they do. For example, you can explain to your sensitive daughter how God used Mother Teresa's compassion to help a hurting world. Suggest small positive ways she can use her unique gift, such as reaching out to others hurting in her school. But also let her know each gift has a corresponding weakness—in her case, a challenge with oversensitivity. Share one of your gifts and its corresponding weakness. Ask your children to pray for you, and promise you'll pray for them.

Acknowledge Their Feelings

Your 13 year old doesn't think you're fair. She thinks you treat her siblings better than you treat her. She's unhappy with herself, her siblings, and you. Why not write her a note and put it on her pillow: "Honey, I want you to know I love you. Being 13 is hard. You're seeing things in me you don't like. In fact, you probably don't like me much at times. Sometimes you don't like yourself or your brothers or even your friends. I want you to know I understand. It's normal! Even though life's hard right now, I want you to know I'm thrilled with the way God's made you. He has a special plan for your life. He understands everything you feel. We'll come through this time and be good friends! I love you."

Kids, especially preteens and teens, need hope. A note like this communicates understanding and also gives them that hope.

Pray Daily for Them

Go around the breakfast table and have each child share one thing for which he or she needs prayer that day. Have each child pray for one other person's request. This will give you a window into each other's world. Your dinner conversations can include sharing how each person's day went.

Maintain a Sense of Humor

Whenever you hear, "You love her the most!" roar with laughter and say, "Why, that's the silliest thing I've ever heard. I love each of you more than you can ever imagine!"

Often what a child needs most at that moment isn't a panicky parent with a long defense, but simple reassurance. Tell your children over and over that you love them . …not because of something they've done but simply because they belong to you. Even if you didn't grow up in an affectionate home, you can be the first of a generation of healthy, affectionate families.

Remember, God Chose Your Family

God's given you the children you have in their exact birth order, with their exact personalities, for a reason. They're his tools in your life to grow you into the woman he created you to be. He's given you that strong-willed child, that one with ADHD, that one you clash with because she's so much like you, that sensitive one who wears you out, that one you don't understand at all. Every child's a gift . …and every child's precious to God. So treasure the unique children with whom God's blessed you.

Susan Alexander Yates is the author of numerous books, including And Then I Had Teenagers (Baker Book House).

Moms Speak Out!

What you had to say about how to avoid playing favorites:

My daughters are close in age, and it seemed as though I was constantly hearing, "Mom, Anne gets to do … why can't I?" I felt as though I was working full-time at keeping things "even steven." So I decided to assign each girl an alternate week in which she could choose things she wanted to do, such as select the TV program to watch before dinner or sit in the front seat of the car instead of the back, knowing my other daughter would have her turn the next week. This eliminated lots of complaints—and took some "score-keeping" pressure off me!

Leslie, Illinois

When I was growing up, I used to hear, "You're the oldest, so you should know better." Then I'd get punished for something my younger brother instigated! That didn't seem fair, so I decided that with my own sons, if it wasn't clear who was at fault in a sibling argument, they'd both take a time-out. That way, one isn't always singled out for blame, and they're more motivated to resolve their spats peacefully on their own. With this approach, I don't feel as though I'm always playing the heavy.

Glenda, Arizona

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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