Lastborn children tend to compensate for their younger age by stealing the spotlight from their older siblings. Though their attention-hogging tactics can range from innocent to manipulative, it can work in your favor if you know how to use their traits your parenting advantage. Here, how to give lastborn kids the attention that they deserve.
1. Play fair. Often times a parent can become so preoccupied worrying about her oldest child's upcoming school spelling bee or making sure the middle child isn't making mud soup in the kitchen, she'll neglect the youngest one's needs. "You'll have to make sure the youngest child is included," says Meri Wallace, a child and family therapist for over 20 years and author of Birth Order Blues (Owl Books). "If the oldest one is always having playdates, you might try to make sure to arrange one for the youngest one." This will strengthen the youngest child's sense of identity as an integral part of the family.
2. Nobody puts baby in a corner. Young children often feel left out because they're "not old enough," but even though your 4-year-old daughter may be the youngest of the lot, that doesn't mean you should treat her like a baby. "Teach the younger child to be independent," Wallace advises. Even a toddler can help you set the dinner table or pick up strewn toys around the living room. This will reinforce the idea that she's a competent, able individual, regardless of her place in the sibling hierarchy.
3. Dim the spotlight. By hook or by crook, the baby of the family has got to have all the attention, so having your 5-year-old daughter do a mock-"Thriller" dance in front of the TV while you're trying to watch the 5 o'clock news is not out of the question. But while it's important that you give her your fair share of personal time so she feels equally as important as her siblings, parents shouldn't give the baby preferential treatment.
4. Hold him accountable for his actions. Yes, we know he's your baby, your precious youngest child. But if you let your 5-year-old skip out on doing his chores, not only is he going to be more difficult to discipline as he gets older, but his siblings will likely resent the preferential treatment he's receiving. "Be sure your lastborn does not get away with murder in regard to family rules and regulations," writes Dr. Kevin Leman, in The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are (Revell). "Statistics show the lastborn is least likely to be disciplined and the least likely to toe the mark the way the older children did."
5. Protect him when the going gets rough. As a parent of multiple kids, you also inherit an invisible referee jersey. Older children often look down on their younger sibling, and may try to bully or tease him. When things get dicey, you need to step in, not just to teach your older child to be civil, but also to protect the soft underbelly of your youngest. "If the older children are not letting the youngest child finish a sentence, you need to be there to say, 'Wait a minute. So-and-so has something to say, and you're cutting him off,'" Wallace says.
6. Say no -- and feel fine about it. The youngest child is generally more self-centered than the rest, so don't be surprised if your 6-year-old daughter is throwing a tantrum in the middle of Macy's because she absolutely needs that pink faux-fur shrug to show off at school. However, rather than buying the fashion disaster to halt her tears, it's important not to indulge her every request. Treating her as you would her siblings -- that is, buying her things that she needs, not necessarily everything Jamie Lynn Spears is wearing -- is her dose of humble pie.
7. Age ain't nothin' but a number. Oftentimes when children of different ages play together, the youngest get left out -- supposedly, they can't run fast enough, jump high enough, think quick enough. But to your 4-year-old son who was banned from playing kickball by the neighborhood kids, all he knows is that he was ostracized. This is when it's your job to explain to him that, yes, maybe playing kickball right now with the 10-year-olds isn't the best idea -- but that that won't always be the case.
"You want to explain to the younger child that he's sitting on the tricycle because he's younger and his legs need to grow," says Wallace. "When he's older, he will be riding a two-wheeler. There's nothing wrong with him; it's just a matter of age, and that will change."
8. Whenever necessary, call baby's bluff, Leman advises. The youngest child, desperate for attention, is likely to exaggerate the facts if it's convenient. Your 8-year-old is running a fever and is too sick to go to school? Don't think twice to grab a thermometer to prove that he's wrong -- and that you won't let him get away with it.
9. Explain yourself. Lastborns can be secretive, pushy, or passive when it comes to feeling excluded, write Cliff Isaacson and Kris Radish in The Birth Order Effect (Adams Media Corporation). If your child clams up, it's up to you to open the lines of communication so your child's anger doesn't fester into long-term resentment.
For instance, if your 5-year-old daughter starts giving you the silent treatment because her older siblings don't want her on their handball team, it's important to explain to her that their actions doesn't mean that they don't care about her, nor does it mean she'll never be able to play more physical games with them. Tell her it's only a matter of time before her body develops and she can join in the game. To ease into this, try saying, "It may be hard for you to believe, but...," Isaacson and Radish suggest.
10. Integrate your lastborn into the mix. Due to age differences, it's hard to find activities your 13-year-old, 10-year-old, and 6-year-old can (and will want to) do together. Your teenage boy might want to play computer games, but Halo is just too hard for the 6-year-old to understand, and sports -- considering your kids' differing motor skills -- is another conundrum. But going to the natural history museum's dinosaur exhibit or going to the park with Fido and a tennis ball? That's something everyone can enjoy.
Want to know more about what classically makes up the "baby" mentality? Check out the following stories on birth order.