Family Matters: Effectively parent by building family unity

Diana Boggia

Dear Diana: I’m hoping I can get some insight on raising a 15-year-old, a 13-year-old and a 3-year-old. With such a huge age difference and different schedules for each, how can I parent them well and stay somewhat consistent?  

Dear Mom: Although your three children are at very different stages, you can effectively parent by determining your expectations for each child and then following through with consistency, schedules and routines, no matter what. Of course when “life happens” everyone needs to be flexible, but building your core parenting philosophy with expectations and routine will produce the structure and balance you are trying to define.

Raising a teen presents just as many challenges as raising a toddler. Simply put, parenting never ends, it just changes. Therefore, as parents, we need to adapt and change how we approach new and different situations.

It is helpful to view each child as an individual, and respond to their needs accordingly.

Having children at each end of the spectrum provides your older ones with the opportunity to develop nurturing, caregiving skills, while your 3-year-old can learn much from older siblings, who are his role models.

Although close in age, even your 13- and 15- year-old are at different stages of development, with different needs. When you step back and look at each child as an individual, it is easier to determine the skill areas that need work, and what you can do to make that happen.

For example, if one teen refuses to help out or clean up, explain your new expectations, and offer the privileges he may earn when he complies (use of a cell phone, going out with friends, etc). Children (and teens) need to be reminded of expectations, just as often as they need to be reminded that privileges need to be earned.

I spoke with a mother of a 15-year-old daughter. The woman also has two sons, ages 4 and 6. Our conversation wasn’t as focused on schedules and routines as it was on involving all the children with the same activities and responsibilities at home, which would unite them. Currently, her daughter is solely responsible for doing the nightly dishes, but does not do them, even when reminded.

Her father has taken away her cell phone as a punishment until further notice. I suggested that Mom return the phone, but hold it each night during and after dinner, until the dishes have been washed and put away. Offering her cell phone as a chore-completed incentive is much more likely to achieve the desired result of having the dinner dishes completed.

I then asked how the boys are participating with dinner clean up. Being responsible for simple household chores builds a sense of unity, accomplishment, and confidence, especially for young children. Until now, dinner dishes have been her daughter’s responsibility, and her boys have not been asked to do anything. I explained the skill of perspective-taking, and asked how she thinks her daughter feels that, because she is older, she is to clean her brothers’ dishes, all the pots and pans, and everything else.

I encouraged Mom to turn dinner clean up into a family time, and assign each of the boys a specific job. For example, one might clear the table and dry the pots/pans, while the other would be responsible for wiping the table and putting away food (salt, pepper, butter), leaving just the dishes for their daughter. With everyone participating, the boys will learn daily living skills, will learn to work as a team, and will build self-confidence as they participate and successfully complete jobs to help their family. Their daughter may be able to help without resentment and develop a better relationship with her brothers.

Think of other activities that interest your family, include your young son, and enhance both of your teens’ relationships with him. Although there is a wide age difference, family unity will always help to bridge the bond.

Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting expert. Send your child-rearing questions to or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton, OH 44702. Find parenting resources at her website,