Parental regard, love, support, and acceptance is craved by all children. The problem is that it’s not always given equally. The idea that moms and dads could possibly favour one child over another has long been taboo, but the reality is that many parents find themselves not giving their children equal attention and affection. Unfortunately, favouritism is more likely to occur when parents are under a great deal of stress as they may be unable to inhibit their true feelings or monitor how fairly they’re behaving.
First, parents, don’t beat yourselves up about it.
One of your children may be easier going, may look more like you, or perhaps remind you of a favourite relative. Favouritism does not necessarily mean that you love one child more than another. It does, however, mean you’re giving one child more attention than their other siblings. This favouritism can make the other children feel less loved, and as a result impair their emotional and intellectual growth.
The unfavoured child who receives less of your attention can easily feel defeated.
This can affect their body image, emotional well-being, and self-esteem. It can also trigger feelings of anger, bitterness, resentment, or jealousy, and make them more vulnerable to depression later in life. Surprisingly, the favoured child often suffers equally but in different ways. They may have a strong sense of fairness and feel guilty about getting all the “goodies” for no particular reason. They may become anxious, insecure, and find it hard to receive criticism. They may also adopt a sense of entitlement.
It’s important to remember that every child wants to feel like they’re their own unique person, not simply a clone of their siblings. The best thing parents can do is to make themselves aware of any favouritism and try to be as fair as possible. Here’s how:
- Do your best to divide your attention between your children equally.
- Hold all of your children accountable to the same standards.
- Rotate responsibilities such as cleaning up after dinner.
- Don’t let your “favourite” child off the hook.
- Listen to friends and loved ones who might be trying to tell you that you favour one child over another.
- Empathize with your child if they come to you with a favouritism concern.
- “Love uniquely, not equally” – don’t try to love or treat each child exactly the same. Embrace them for their individualism and unique characteristics.
- Do not keep a scorecard. Avoid explanations like, “I took your sister shopping on Saturday, so I am taking you on Sunday.” Find ways to spend time with each of your children as unique individuals – don’t assume that siblings always like to do the same things.
- Avoid labelling or over-praising each child. Rather than saying “you’re a genius, Johnny,” provide praise that describes the specific positive behaviour: “Johnny, you spelled all of the words in your homework correctly. Great work!”
Every child needs to feel loved and special in order to thrive.
Parents say that they love and cherish their children equally to avoid feeling their own guilt and shame, but often they simply don’t. The bottom line is that you’re no less of a parent for feeling closer to one of your children. It’s normal. What matters most is that you do your best to provide equal love and care anyway. So, no, liking one child over another does not automatically make you a “bad” parent (or person!).
Because stress can worsen favouritism, it’s extra important to ensure you’re meeting your own needs as an individual first.
Schedule in your self-care regularly and make it non-negotiable. If you’re not feeling good, everyone will suffer. If you feel like you might need more support than you’re able to get at home or from loved ones, reach out for some professional help.