Sometimes parents treat their children differently according to their emotional needs, their age, their personalities or the way they learn. In such cases, the difference in treatment does not reflect favoritism but rather helps each child grow and reach his/her potential. However, if you feel that you consistently favor one of your children, you may be unknowingly treating him/her differently from the rest of the siblings and such favoritism has very negative effects on the entire family.
Examples of instances where parents may treat their children differently:
- One of the children has an attractive personality; he/she is funny, intelligent or good looking.
- One of the children has a special need; he/she suffers from some ailment or weakness
- Parents may favor the eldest or the youngest, without paying much attention to the middle ones
- In some cultures, parents simply favor boys over girls.
- Parents may disfavor the disobedient or rowdy child
- Parents may favor the child who is talented in sports, music, art, etc. and disfavor a child who exhibits no special talents
Even though parents may think that they are not exhibiting any favoritism, children do notice the subtle differences in treatment, tone, facial expression, etc. and will get a sense of where they stand relative to their siblings, be it the favored child, the overlooked child or the disfavored child. The consequences of parental favoritism are mostly bad. Disfavored children experience loneliness, depression, lower self-confidence, and poorer academic performance. They may become aggressive and resentful of their siblings. Moreover, favored children may grow with feelings of entitlement and little sense of accountability for their actions. They may feel superior to others and think that rules don’t equally apply to them. Unfortunately, many of these consequences persist long after the children have grown up.
How can parents avoid favoritism?
It is important to understand that parental favoritism is only problematic when there are consistent differences in treatment. In cases where favoritism is unavoidable (e.g., with newborns, needier children), parents who explain its necessity to the other children can usually offset any negative consequences.
Parents need to realize that their children are a gift from God. You are blessed to have your children. They also need to understand that each child is unique and special in a different way. From their young age, children look up to their parents seeking love, acceptance and security. If parents do not fulfill these needs, children will try to get their parents’ attention in whatever way they can. Your child’s behavior and ultimately what he/she turns out to be, is a reflection of how fulfilled he/she is at home.
Parents need to spend quality time with their children, give them the attention and love they need. Parents’ love should be unconditional; it doesn’t depend on anything the child does or doesn’t do. Listen to what your children have to say, show appreciation and encouragement. Be careful not to draw comparisons between siblings or to put them in competition. Try to treat your children equally when it comes to buying gifts or clothes, pocket money, etc. Finally, parents must guard against anything that would result in their children developing feelings of being “less loved” or “or less worthy” than their siblings.