When I was a young mother I read a lot of parenting books and magazines. I bought and kept these as I had my four children. But as my children grew I realised how an approach that would work for one child would dismally fail flat for another.

I potty-trained my oldest child using the reward method. When he told me he needed to tinkle or pooh, and then give me a chance to take him to the toilet so he could do his business like a grown up, I would reward him with praise and a treat. We even had a celebratory song reserved for successful potty usage. I assumed I had mastered the art of potty training, and it would be easy now with the rest of them.

This method though, worked ONLY for my oldest. My next child, a girl, also listened attentively when I explained the method to her. I told her she must tell me when she needed to pee, so we could go to the toilet. I even told her that if she did as instructed she would get a treat and a song. She nodded sagely. Then the first time she was out of a nappy she called me while running to the toilet. She yelled out that she needed to pee, and as I followed her I saw her pee into her brand new panties, and then the urine running down her chubby legs. She then extended her hand out for the promised treat as she had followed my instructions by:

a) Saying when she needed to pee
b) Peeing in the toilet

She now fully expected her treat.

At first I found this blunder cute, so I gave her the treat, but after weeks of her getting it wrong I found it less cute. I was frustrated with her inability to grasp such a simple concept. I compared her unfavorably with her brother, and each time she would have an accident I would get impatient with her, and my request would sound shouty.

Three months down the line I had given up on panties and was making her wear nappies again. It was only one day when I was peeing that I realised that she was scared of the sound the toilet makes when it flushes, and so didn’t want to go near it. Upon further questioning, I found that she had an irrational fear of being flushed away herself, and this fear was greater than her fear of my disapproval.

Once I discovered this I readjusted the textbook method. I stopped waiting for her call of nature. I would take her to the toilet at regular intervals and wait with her, and sit and chat, lessening the pressure. I promised her that if she tinkled in the toilet bowl, she could then wait outside while I flushed. This eliminated her fear of the flushing, which I understood could be scary when you are two and the cistern is taller than you and very loud.

This is one incident amongst many that made me realise that children are individuals from their first moments, and so using a one-size fits all approach to parenting can lead to unfair comparisons and can increase unhealthy sibling rivalries. My children are different in many other ways. Another example: my youngest daughter is a master at self-soothing. She prefers this to being soothed by me. As a baby when she would cry I would be in her face, kissing her and cuddling her in an attempt to soothe her. The attention had worked for her older sister but the little one seemed suffocated by my focus. She would turn away from eye contact and only settle when given the space to sort herself out, on her own.

My two sons are also vastly different. The older one seeks approval by following rules. The little one does not care at all about my approval. His mission in life seems to be to keep his boredom at bay. He will do anything, I mean anything at all, to escape the mundane, including being naughty. For this child, attention and fun trumps approval, and so I have learned to heap activities and attention on him otherwise I risk chaos.

I’ve realized It is extremely unfair to compare children to their siblings. Think for a moment about how different you are to your siblings. These differences in interests, likes and dislikes lead to utterly distinct personalities.

So rather than having one size to fit all, it is important to get to know each child, and then tailor the parenting to suit the child, otherwise techniques can actually backfire.

For example, when it comes to punishment: grounding an extroverted child might work like a charm, as extroverts thrive in the company of others, and so being isolated or confined to their room is likely to deter them from breaking rules. However, for an introvert who thrives in their own company, sending them to ‘time out’ in their room would be an ineffective deterrent for bad behaviour. The introverted child might purposely break rules in order to escape the situation.

Treating children as individuals helps make children feel seen and heard. Knowing your child will make you a better parent. You will find out how to encourage them, how to correct them and how to parent them in order to have the best chance at raising a well adjusted adult who lives to become a positive contributor to society.


Tell us: do you agree that one size doesn’t fit all?