I have to treat my kids as different people, not as one set of children. I often forget to do this, and I only have two, so I can't imagine how challenging it is for people with three, four, five or more children. Each of them is completely separate, with their own fears and dreams and values, and I must look at them as such.
For a long time, I had in my mind that William was the difficult child, and I responded to him accordingly, and Ava was the easy one. These kinds of labels are dangerous, because we make room for them in our minds, and begin to see everything in the light of those preconceived ideas. No child or person is "difficult" or "easy" or any one over-simplified thing. We are all complex individuals, with the possibility for change always present, and it's important to recognize this when interacting with others.
My kids need different things at different times. If I'm not responding to what they need, I'm missing out on ways to see them and help them. Children don't have the skills or the words to describe what they need at any given moment. Adults are responsible to usher them through complicated emotional situations. Simply asking, "What's wrong?" isn't enough to isolate the problem most of the time.
I made an appointment this week to get the kittens "pregnancy-proofed" (after I learned that a male cat will think nothing of knocking up his own sister) and when I told the kids, Ava acted like it was no big deal. I know she loves the kittens above all else, so I tried to explain the surgeries to her, and told her we could dote on them when they come home and they will be fine in a few days.
At bedtime, she burst into tears, and cried uncontrollably for a few minutes. When the torrent of emotion had passed, and I asked her what was wrong, she said, "I don't know." I asked if it was school, or friends, and finally asked if she was worried about the cats, and that was the golden ticket. We often have to work at the root cause of the worry, and when we find it and can talk about it, honestly and openly, the worry becomes manageable.
The appointment day has arrived, and the cats must go to the vet, and Ava needs extra reassurance and attention today. As a result, I'm going to bring her home from school for a special lunch with me while William is at preschool, and wait to pick up the cats from the vet until she is out of school for the day. She will want to be there when we get them so she can be part of the process.
Because I had it in my mind that Ava is "the easy one", I have in the past overlooked what she needs from me, and I don't want to do that anymore. She is not any easier or harder than William, but they are different from each other, with separate strengths and areas of weakness to identify and improve on. It's a lifelong process, but I understand now how important it is to get to know myself, so I can see my kids for who they are, and help them come into their own identities.