Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Each of your children are delightful in their own way – and annoying in their own way, too! Chances are that, occasionally, you discover you prefer one child to the others. This could be because, at the moment, she is more cooperative, less confrontational and more communicative than her older brother. However, this temporary mild preference for one child over the other soon passes.
Problems will arise, though, if you find that you like one of your children significantly more than the others, and if you find that this feeling is long-term and not temporary. In other words, you have a favourite.
This parental emotion needs very careful handling. After all, no child likes to think that her parents prefer her sibling; ultimately, this leads to low self-esteem and a sense of rejection. They all deserve your love.
You may try to convince yourself that your children do not know you have a favourite, but you are only fooling yourself – of course they know. Parental favouritism is unfair on children, and is always destructive.
RETHINKING YOUR BEHAVIOUR
If, on reflection, you recognise that you do favour one of your children over the others for whatever reason (whether due to her personality, her abilities, her achievements), ask yourself the following questions:
1. What are the strengths and positive characteristics of my other children? Force yourself to consider the good points of the children who are not your favourites. Every child has his or her own strengths. This helps redress the imbalance of favouritism.
2. What is it about me that makes me like this child more? For instance, you might have a favourite because she achieves best in school, whereas you failed class tests as a child. Favouritism can be caused by your needs, not by your children.
3. Does my favouritism show? It is not fair to treat your children on a differential basis, giving preference to one over the others. Think about the way you relate to them.
4. How hard am I trying to like all my children? True, some children are more demanding, more challenging, more difficult to engage with, but that simply means you have to work harder to connect with them and to value them.
5. How would I feel if my parents preferred my siblings to me? Imagine you are on the receiving end of favouritism – you would probably hate to be in that situation. Well, it is the same for your children, too. Parental favouritism is divisive.
WHAT TO DO
Having thought through your motivations and actions and the impact on your family, the next step is to change the way you handle your children. Make a clear decision that you will not show your favouritism even though you might want to.
Ensure, for example, that you spend as much time and money on each of their birthdays, attend each of their year-end shows, take equal interest in their homework and achievements, and have loving physical contact with all of them. Make a special point of spending time with each of them alone every day, if possible, for at least a few minutes.
Make a firm commitment to implement these changes. It will encourage each child to feel that they are special to you. Through this, you will find that your relationship with your children begins to balance out, and that any favouritism starts to fade. This creates a much healthier psychological outlook for your family.