Favouritism is a big no-no, but it is still very common. Here's how to recognise and remove it.
Most parents won’t admit it even to themselves, but in almost every family there is a favourite child. And the less favoured child is usually all too aware that scales of justice are not balanced in his favour.
Off the record many parents admit that it is difficult to not have a favourite, while research shows that over 80% of mothers say they favour one child over the other(s).
Work away favouritism
Admitting to having a favourite is hard, but it is the first step in stopping favouritism. Getting along better with one child is just a natural outworking of character – what is important is not to feel guilty about the feeling, but to pay attention to how we choose to respond to that feeling.
Avoiding favouritism has to be a conscious decision that you make as a parent. You need to consciously use your feelings to inform your actions instead of acting out your feelings. It is important to make each child aware of their specialness and individuality.
Parents need to stash away the guilt and work instead on the ways that we subconsciously communicate favouritism to our children. These are subtle things that we may not even be aware of, but tarnish our children’s perceptions of our love for them. They can be gender-based – such as the mother who always buys her daughter pretty dresses at the shops and qualifies this as a gender issue – there just aren’t cute clothes for boys. To the child, however, it is a clear indication of favouritism. Favouritism can also be related to position in the family. If the youngest child is consistently getting off the hook, the eldest is likely to view this as a form of favouritism.
Our own issues influence the way that we parent. Favouritism can be a repeat of childhood issues. For example, if you, the girl, felt your mother favoured your brother, you might subconsciously leap to the defence of your daughter when it is not necessarily warranted.
Body language and tone play a huge role in communicating your feelings. Parents will often subconsciously speak to a child who learns quickly from her mistakes in a softer tone of voice and with affectionate body language. A more recalcitrant child is likely to get the “cross” voice and impatient, irritated body language.
So even if you do not intend to impart favouritism, it is important to become conscious of these subconscious ways of inferring favour because even if you aren’t aware of it, your children will be. And it can have devastating effects on not just the less favoured child, but also the favoured child.
Favouritism has negative spin-offs for the development of each child, for sibling rivalry, and ultimately for your relationship with your children. So, how do you know if there is a problem? Well, there is a problem if the child feels it. A child’s perception that there is favouritism is his reality, and he will act out accordingly.
Don’t be defensive about an accusation of favouritism – your child’s feelings are valid, including the negative ones. You might not think that his perception is right, but by understanding where he’s coming from, you’ll be more equipped to deal with it.
Recognising and acting on favouritism in your family will make a difference to not one, but all of your children. Understanding that having a favourite is quite common should ease your guilt, provided you use the knowledge to provide the love, attention and time that each child requires, uniquely. As a child, our parents’ love is a mirror of how loveable we are, so it’s important that the reflection is a fair one.