One of the challenges we face as parents when we have more than one child is to keep each individual child challenged and growing in all that we train them in – be it chores, their school work, their unique talents or in their moral understanding. It is so much easier to lump the children together (especially if they are close in age) and expect the same of them. Though this may work for a season, in the long run we need to be consistent in the training of each individual child.

Though our children may look like they are doing well, coasting is as effective as sliding backwards. We need to assess the situation, take stock on how our children are going with their relationships, responsibilities, personal growth, talents, and school work. We want our children to be always growing in their skills and understanding.

In order to review – ask these few questions:

  • Are their actions age appropriate? Or even more importantly are they appropriate for what your child can achieve?
  • Do they have the skill down pat? Do they have the moral understanding to match? (Often skill comes first and then the moral understanding, but we need to teach the moral as diligently as we teach the practical.)
  • Can they do the whole task? Or have you broken it down to small parts and only taught the first part. (e.g. they can clean the bathroom bench, but you haven’t taught them to clean the toilet yet, so the whole skill of keeping the bathroom clean is not yet complete.)

Once you assess an area where more needs to be done, then it is up to us as parents to put in the training. Training consists of us showing them what is right, teaching and instructing, helping them to practice, and then, only then, can we expect them to be acting accordingly in a consistent way.

Let’s recap that training sequence:

  • Show – live by example
  • Teach and Instruct
  • Practice
  • Expect


So how to bump up the levels of responsibility in your home?

It is so much easier to rely on the oldest child because they can do it – but we need to be training each of our children. Ever since Daniel was born I have been challenged with the idea that it is my responsibility to train each child. My older ones can help me with my younger ones, but ultimately it is my responsibility. I heard Greg Harris talk about this once. He started by sharing how much more responsible and able first-borns tend to be. He asked himself why this is so. His observations where that when our first-borns are toddlers and preschoolers and cry, we come running and we help them deal with the “crisis” – we teach them to handle disappointment, frustration, and hurt. But by the time our fourth comes along and they cry we send big brother to go and help them. Big brother then helps them deal with disappointment, frustration and hurt. Big brother can only help to the level of his maturity and therefore the youngest are being trained to a lower level of maturity and expectation. First-borns also tend to have a higher level of vocabulary, and this is attributed to the amount of time the first-born has in adult conversation and attention. This is all very challenging.

Here are a few keys that I have found help me bump up my younger ones:

  • Do the training myself – make time for it to happen. I need to remember that training is more than just instructions. It takes time and attention. When the child hits the instruction and practice stages it takes my time.
  • When I have a task that needs doing I ask the youngest able child, instead of always relying on the oldest
  • When I am about to do a task myself I ask who needs to be trained in this task, or who needs the practice, and I have them working along side of me

It is challenging though to balance everyone’s training; for though the oldest may not be the best person to train the youngest they are still along the pathway to maturity. How do we keep training so many different levels of need in our family?

  • Break down a skill into progressive steps and know where each child is at in that progression. Instruct, practice and expect each child to their level of development. If we don’t grow our children’s abilities they get frustrated and this in itself brings a whole pile of behavioural challenges. Our children thrive on responsibility (if they have been taught!)
  • Understand that heart issues (moral understanding, character training) are also progressive. Each child will express a different level of the same character trait. You can work on the same trait in different situations throughout your day eg you can work on self control when you are at the dinner table, grocery shopping, visiting friends or watching a video but expect each child to respond differently. (e.g. if working on determination, a younger child will be working on ‘not giving up’ while an older child may be working on ‘setting goals’.)
  • We need to instruct our younger children, and question our older ones. Once our children understand what is expected of them they no longer need our lecture or reminder, instead we need to question them which tells us they understand but also gives them an opportunity to verbally commit to doing the right thing.

Our responsibility as a parent is to continue to teach and train each of our children, to increase their level of ability and responsibility. We cannot let the older ones get staid by holding them back to the level of the younger ones, neither can we stunt the younger ones by always relying on the older ones. This is not an easy task as a parent, but if we are intentional about it we will get in the habit of seeing each child’s needs and working on them.

Further Reading:

Remember these 4 Training Stages to be an Effective Parent: These 4 training stages helps us to teach our children rather than just tell them. Without these 4 stages we are likely to frustrate our children.

The Battle to be a Consistent Parent: Being consistent as a parent is hard. The key to being consistent though is knowing the value of what we are doing. Is it important enough for our efforts?

Training at the Grocery Store: In this post I break down the many different skills needed to do the grocery shop as an example of breaking down a skill and teaching different skills to different children, but all at the same time.  Once you start doing this you will be able to teach all your kids at the same time in any situation.

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