Parenting Tips for Raising Firstborns
My daughter is nine. She’s our first child and she proudly wears the badge that only firstborns can rightly claim. She’s a natural leader, a high achiever, precise and specific, likes to be in control, and is responsible to a fault. Although we face some sibling challenges as these traits play out on her brother, firstborn characteristics are great when applied to sports, homework, school, and other responsibilities.
Although I like that she “owns” her homework and excels at sports, I’m also aware that I have to be careful about feeding into these tendencies. I’d rather nourish her executive leadership skills than play into her bossiness. And as she heads into her tween years and is broadening her definition of independence, I’m more astute to finding parenting tools to nurture her first child tendencies. Here are some tips I’ve found for raising firstborns.
Tips for Parenting Firstborn Children
Allow them to make decisions. I learned early on that there are some battles (ahem, clothes) that aren’t worth my time to fuel. Olivia has had strong opinions since she could talk. As her opinions grow and the decisions become more complex, I have to remember (and hope!) that she uses her skills to make the best choices. And, be her support when she makes mistakes rather than trying to fix everything for her.
Emphasize the importance of mistakes in the learning process. When Olivia was four, she got this thumbprint art book for her birthday. She was so excited to make the little people and critters demonstrated in the pages. It seemed so simple – ink your thumb, press it on paper for the body, and draw face/arms/legs/hair/etc. It didn’t take long (less than a minute) before it became a disaster. She had a total meltdown because her thumbprint dog didn’t look anything like the picture in the book. From then on, I knew we’d be having the “how to handle mistakes” talk quite often. This is a frequent discussion during school assignments, art projects, new games, etc.
Nurture patience and flexibility. From early on, Olivia needed to know exactly how the day would go. In fact, her favorite toddler phrase was “then what” and if things didn’t go as planned a tantrum or crying would ensue. Although I would generally share the plan for the day, we frequently talked about changes and how we have to be flexible. I found the best was not to “promise” anything and use phrases such as “If we get our grocery shopping done in time, we’ll have a time to go to the park before dinner.” I also found being sympathetic goes a long way, “I know you’re disappointed we didn’t have time for the park. Let’s look at our calendar to see when we can go tomorrow.”
Encourage rather than praise. When parenting any child, it is generally best to encourage a behavior rather than praise the skill. For firstborns it’s especially helpful to encourage hard work and effort over the final product (i.e. “I like how you worked hard at that project.”). This shows them that you value the determination rather than whether or not the outcome was “perfect.”
Nurture compromise and teamwork. Because 1st children are often leaders and like things to be “just so,” they can easily become “bossy” in their friendships. It’s important to teach children to care and be more cooperative towards others.
Spend time together. I spend a lot of time shuttling my daughter back and forth to her sports and extracurricular activities. When we’re home, however, I’m typically focused on putting out fires with my preschooler who demands a lot of attention. I know she’s feeling left out because she often says, “You care more for Owen. You’re always paying attention to him.” The reality is that I’m not really getting enough time for either of them and I’m spread pretty thin these days. I know I need to focus some one-on-one time with both of them even if it’s a quick outing after school or a long snuggle before bed.
Love them for who they are. Really, this is the best parenting advice for any child. Children want to feel loved and respected. It’s easy to get lost in the crazies of everyday life or bogged down by all the parenting advice. Unconditional love is the answer. Find those everyday actions that lets your child know they are loved – a long hug, an “I love you note”, a cuddle with a book, a shared laugh.
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