Ask BBB: Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun

QUESTION: My 11-year-old daughter wants to emulate everything our 14-year-old daughter does, including wearing makeup and shaving her legs. How do we explain to her that she needs to wait until we allow it?

BBB: Often a parent comes to me with a problem of this nature—whether it’s the 4-year-old who wants an allowance because the 7-year-old has one, or it’s the 8-year-old who wants to stay up as late as the 11-year-old. The younger child usually feels entitled to whatever the older child gets.

Let’s face it, pretty typically the second-born or the younger sibling lives for the older one. She craves her attention, her possessions, her life…all of it.

The second-born also grows up a lot more quickly than did your first. Your first-born was protected from sugar, screens and all “bad influences” for years and years. Your second one gets propped up in front of the television, with a lollipop in her mouth, at two months! (Joke.)

All this is to say it doesn’t surprise me at all that your 11-year-old wants to do the teenage stuff that your 14-year-old does. Of course she does!

That the younger child wants what the older child has is not the problem. We parents are the problem! It doesn’t help that parents have fueled the fire by working so hard to make life for our two children “fair.”  And to you, “fair,” unfortunately, means equal.

A parent need not feel guilty about saying no to the second-born. Keep in mind that life will never seem completely fair to your children. To them, fair means getting what they want when they want it.

Children need to learn that certain privileges are triggered by age. Certain permissions come with age, development and readiness. After all, your 14-year-old wasn’t allowed makeup or leg shaving at 11, was she? This is not about you “allowing” her. In this case, it is about her being old enough.

Your 11-year-old needs to learn to delay gratification, and you need to learn to tolerate her disappointment.

You will also need to tolerate her complaining, whining, hounding and other attempts to get you to change your mind. Too often a child’s loud reaction causes us to circle back and question our responses. Don’t go there. No guilt, please. Stick to your guns.

Validate your 11-year-old’s desires and feelings. Try saying, “I know you really want to shave your legs, wear makeup and do the things your sister does. You will get to do all those things…when you are 14.” Please don’t give reasons or excuses. Those will only energize her campaign.

Might she sneak and cheat and try her best to get her way? Maybe. But you need to calmly stick to your rules, reminding her when she abides by your rules that she will get her privileges. If she doesn’t, that time will be extended.

Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is the author of the bestselling “Just Tell Me What to Say” and has been featured on the “Today Show.” Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.