“Mom, which one of us is the favorite?” Favoritism affects us immensely when we’re young, and can mold us as adults. Kids who were always playing second fiddle to a sibling can grow up to resent both that sibling and the parent who favored them; kids who played the “golden child” tend to be happier as adults, but can sometimes act imperious and entitled. If it’s severe, parental favoritism can even sow the seeds of real psychological problems. Obviously, you don’t want that for your children. So how do you make sure they don’t become the victims of favoritism?
First, take a hard look at whether you play favorites as a parent. Do you take sides in an argument between your children? Do you sometimes tell one child to take their cues from another? These actions may seem benign, but they’re actually subtle instances of favoritism. If you realize that you do play favorites sometimes, don’t beat yourself up about it; it’s a natural instinct. But there are measures you can take to curb that behavior and ensure your children feel equally loved and appreciated.
If you want to stop playing favorites, never compare one child to the other. “Emma finished her homework in under an hour. Why can’t you do that?” Saying something like this to a child only makes them feel ashamed, and probably won’t make them finish their homework any faster. Some parents would argue that fostering competition between their children works as motivation. In the short run, it does. But what that kind of parenting really communicates, especially to young children, is that the winner will gain your love and the loser will not. Try to exempt yourself from being the judge in competitions. In a dispute between siblings, insist on equal punishments. And don’t suggest that one child emulate the other, even if the other child’s behavior is exemplary.
Even if you never play favorites at home, your child’s teachers and coaches sometimes will. If your child reports that a teacher is playing favorites, attend a class yourself. If you notice the same behavior your child did, don’t hesitate to schedule a meeting with the teacher or coach and address the problem in a nonaggressive way. Sometimes there’s a perfectly good reason for perceived favoritism. Teachers tailor their teaching to each child’s unique personality and temperament; perhaps if your child isn’t being favored, it’s because the teacher feels they don’t need that extra attention.
To some extent, favoritism is unavoidable; it’s a natural human behavior, something everyone does. As kids get older, and build self-confidence, they’ll be able to cope with that fact more readily and shrug off favoritism. But until then, make sure the people your children look up to aren’t showing favoritism. Teach your children that appreciating people for their unique qualities is ultimately more rewarding than picking favorites.