Q: I have children in second grade and kindergarten. The second-grader is ready for some "experiences," such as attending a theater production. I am torn between having a special day with just the one child vs. a special experience with both children. The kids usually get along well, and the younger one is generally interested in anything the older child is. The younger child would definitely feel left out if the older one had a special experience, even if something else was planned with the younger one. Thoughts?

A: This is a great question, because even though you are specifically gearing it toward your younger children, I find that these dynamics are true for families with siblings of all ages. I also find questions like this one interesting, because this has only recently become an issue for us parents.

My short answer: It’s good to let kids feel disappointment.

For most of the United States’ short time as a country, children were largely herded together. Schoolhouses, religious institutions, etc.: Everything was mostly geared toward adults, and the children were just thrown in.

After World War II, the rise of “childhood” began, and you started to see an entire subculture spring up around kids, including theater just for children.

What this does, in part, is provide opportunities for caregivers to take part in activities with children when it’s age-appropriate. This means that, even though there is children’s theater, it still isn’t appropriate for every child. In fact, it might be absolutely boring for some.

This is why it’s okay to treat your children differently. Children have different needs at different ages. Even the arts, which was largely created by and for adults, recognized that children can enjoy theater in a specific way. And although 6- and 8-year-olds can mostly attend the same theater, if your 8-year-old is ready for more mature or even topically different material, it is absolutely fitting to leave the 6-year-old at home. And, as the children get older and their interests differ, it is fun to specialize events.

How you do this? First: It’s okay (even good) for your children to feel disappointed. You are not meant to please and appease your children at every turn, especially when it doesn’t support their needs. Helping them to feel disappointment and move through it is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. If we only seek to please and avoid hard feelings, our children will have difficulty finding the resilience that life requires to endure and grow. If you are making parenting decisions with integrity, you will find it easier to say, “I know this is disappointing, and it’s okay to feel frustrated.”

How else can you plan special experiences with your children? I find that family meetings are the solution. Call a meeting, keep the tone positive and let your children know you’ll be setting up “special dates” with each of them. You don’t need to highlight why, nor do you need to mention that some experiences are better for one child than another. The goal is to say, “I just want some one-on-one time with each of you.” Then start planning. Choose dates, and don’t stress yourself out. It is vital that these events are affordable and doable for you.

The fun of this is that you can plan appropriate social outings with each child and have the time to focus and enjoy that specific child. And by having a family meeting, everyone will feel heard and as if it’s mostly “fair.”

Again, one child may have hurt feelings, and your only work is to hug and love them through it. The siblings will be doing almost everything together (other than school), so it’s okay for them to have some special time with a parent. In fact, it’s good for them, and it’s good for you. You may end up learning a lot during these outings! Good luck.

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