It's a familiar cry in most households with more than one child: "It's not fair!" This phrase is usually accompanied by, "He always gets his way" and "I never get to..." (fill in the blank with anything from "drink from the Elmo cup" to "sit by the window").
In our home, it's no different. In the beginning, when there was just me, my husband, Tim, and our daughter, Mary Leigh, things were relatively manageable. When our son Kevin arrived two years after Mary Leigh, that made two kids and two adults: we were evenly matched. Then came baby number three, Brian, just a year and a half later? and suddenly Tim and I found ourselves outnumbered.
And so our struggles began. On atypical day, I would have just gotten the baby to sleep when an argument would break out over a toy. Eager to quell any disturbance, I'd turn to Mary Leigh and say, "Please just give the toy to Kevin, he's little and doesn't understand how to share yet. You're a big girl." This tactic worked for a while, but eventually the "big girl" line grew old, and that's when the "it's not fair" business began. Of course, the logical part of my brain knew that a 3-year-old wasn't capable of understanding why she should have to give in more. But I had three kids under age four, and the logical part of my brain was often nowhere to be found.
Bribery was an effective strategy until I realized I was creating mini monsters: little Kevin expected to get what he wanted on demand, and Mary Leigh expected to be paid off for her cooperation.
I knew that something had to change. Once we got past the first few months of survival mode (do whatever it takes not to wake the baby), I tried to teach the older two the concept of taking turns. Most of the time they did pretty well, but as with all things parenting, consistency was key. Success was highly dependent on mood, hunger, and level of exhaustion (both the kids' and mine). As Brian turned into a toddler and another baby was on the way, I decided that I needed some new tools in my arsenal.
That's when I started using a system I called Kid of the Day. Each day, on a rotating basis, one child would be awarded this prestigious title and all the privileges that went with it, such as getting to decide which TV show to watch and being the first to play with a coveted toy and to get served at lunch.
In fact, for almost any dispute that might arise among the siblings, the Kid of the Day system could provide resolution. They couldn't agree on which board game to play? Let the Kid of the Day make the call! One wanted mac-and-cheese for lunch, and the others wanted pizza? The Kid of the Day got to decide.
The best thing about the system: it proved to be an extremely flexible tool. Sometimes it was hard to predict what the hot-button issue would be on any given day. We went through a phase when everyone wanted the "good" throw pillow to sit on while watching TV. Other times it was all about who got to get into the car first. Regardless of the argument, good old KOD was a wonderful fallback strategy.
In the early days, Kid of the Day was mostly a way to keep the peace. But when we welcomed our fourth child, Mike, and two years later, twin girls, Colleen and Megan, the KOD system evolved beyond its original purpose.
In any family, but especially in a large one like ours, it's important to find ways to make each child feel special. Kid of the Day was the perfect vehicle for doing just that. Instead of relying on KOD just to settle arguments, I began to use it in a positive way. First, we made a fancy Kid of the Day display for our refrigerator (see box). Each morning, with great fanfare, we would change the display to the name of the day's honoree. Then, all day I'd look for ways to do something fun with that child.
Even mundane chores could be turned into opportunities for one-on-one time. If I had to run errands, I'd take the Kid of the Day with me while the others stayed with Tim. The KOD also enjoyed the privilege of serving as my dinner helper. Among the "honors" were setting the table, picking out which vegetables to eat, and helping me stir or chop. He or she would begin grace and was the first to share one good thing and one not-so-good thing that had happened that day.
I can't say that the Kid of the Day system works miracles in every parenting situation. It doesn't help with fourth-grade math, and it can't get a 16-year-old home before curfew. Still, it saved my sanity on many occasions through the years, and best of all, it's helped me to forge a special relationship with each of my six children.
Becky Hayes lives with her family in LaGrange Park, Illinois.
Originally published in the May 2012 issue of FamilyFun magazine.