Teenagers (13-18)

6 Signs You May Be Playing Favorites With Your Children

Let’s be real here for a second: we love all of our children equally. Madly and deeply, even. But children have different personalities, and different strengths and weaknesses. Depending on how those line up with our own personality, it may make it easier for us to click with one child more. And just like that, without even meaning to, we have a favorite.

A recent study in the journal of Child Development found that in families where parents acted more positively toward one child and more negatively toward another, everyone suffered. Naturally, it hurts the relationship with the child who doesn’t think he’s as loved, but it also causes the favorite child to have feelings of guilt. It’s a lose-lose scenario.

While it may be necessary to parent individual children somewhat differently, it’s a good idea to take your own temperature and see if you’re guilty of any of these 6 Signs That You’re Playing Favorites from time to time. If you’re child communicates that he feels like a sibling is liked more than him, that’s a definite red flag to slow down and do some things to minimize that impression.

No parent intends to favor one child over another. But we are human, and there may be one child in your family with whom you “click” better than others, or another who is really tough for you to understand. If we’re not careful, the child who matches up best with our own personality and preferences may get more of the best of us, while our other children get less. Here are some common ways moms can unintentionally play favorites:

1. Talking about one child more. Maybe your daughter is a musical theatre buff and that’s also your passion, so you’re always excited about her next big show. You call grandma and grandpa to make sure they get tickets and talk it up around town. But what about your kid that plays baseball? Are you just as excited to invite friends and family to his games, and give him a chance to shine?

2. Talking to one child more. For the same reasons (personal interest and preference), it may be natural and easy for you to ask the kid whose life you “get” for every detail of what went on today at rehearsal or practice. Make sure you interact just as much with the child whose activities you don’t understand as well. It may require you to put in more effort to be able to understand the activity and be able to converse about it easily, but it’s worth it. He needs to know you care.

3. Teasing. While a little good-natured teasing is okay, and probably something that every child should be able to grin and bear, make sure that one kid in the family isn’t the object of your teasing more than others. (e.g. if one child is hopelessly, and sometimes hilariously, clumsy.) Kids read between the lines of our communication and may interpret your words to mean something more than they do.

4. Favoring the gifted and talented. We parents are human, and we can’t help but feel a bit validated and proud when one kid is an academic super-star or the team captain. But it’s important to remember that so much of what made your high-performance child a standout was raw talent given to him by God. Your other children, who may work just as hard but never see the same results, need to know that you value who they are just as much, even if the world doesn’t shower them with accolades. Make sure that you affirm them for their hard work and other positive character traits just as much as their sibling’s obvious successes.

5. Favoring based on behavior. Believe us, we get it. Some kids require more correction than others. But your kid who struggles to behave may interpret the steady dose of correction he receives as a sign that you don’t love him as much as his better-behaved brother or sister. Make sure you verbalize to your more difficult child—perhaps even more frequently than to the others—that you love him immensely, and that you correct him for that reason. Make your correction focused on what he did (“You didn’t follow the rules we have for sharing. You should have asked your brother before taking his sleeping bag.”) rather than making it an indictment of who he is (“You’re just so selfish and inconsiderate!”).

6. Favoring the oldest or youngest. You may be smitten with your oldest because she’s able to help you out more than her siblings (and carry on a real conversation from time to time), or with your youngest because the baby is always so cuddly and cute. Maybe these tendencies are the root of the fabled “middle-child angst” (see Jan Brady). Hold yourself in check to ensure that you’re not falling into the trap of being focused on the oldest or the youngest in such a way that your other kids feel less-than. Remember—every age and stage has its charms. Work hard to see what’s special about where each of your children are in their growth and maturity.

Related Resource: 10 Compliments Your Kids Need to Hear

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