Playing Favorites: Why You Shouldn’t and How to Stop

When it comes to the slippery slope of favoring one child over another, awareness is the key to putting an end to it. It’s important not to become defensive or upset if someone (your child, your spouse, a family member) accuses you of favoritism. It can be an emotionally charged issue – but an accusation does not mean it’s true.

Maybe you honestly do favor one of your children over another – you need to ask yourself why. Are they similar to you? Do they bring your own negative qualities to light? Are they too dissimilar from you? Do they remind you of someone you dislike? Are you a product of parental favoritism yourself? Just by asking yourself these questions and looking inward for the answers, you are on your way to strengthening your relationships with your children and your family unit as well. Continue reading for 15 important reasons why and how to stop playing favorites.

15 The Perception of Favoritism is What is Damaging

Parenting experts agree that it is actually perceived favoritism that hurts family relationships. Even if you treat your children fairly– if one of your children believes you favor their sibling over them, there is potential to cause damage to the family. So if you find you are consistently being accused of favoritism, this cannot be ignored.

Keep in mind that it’s completely normal for children to accuse you of favoritism when they are upset about not getting their way. If I stopped the presses in my house every time one of my kids accused me of loving them less than the others, I’d be spinning my wheels endlessly!

14 Favoritism Creates Family Rifts

Of course, most parents don’t plan on favoring one child over another, but it still happens all the time. Even unintentional favoritism can create long-lasting, even irreparable damage within a family – and not just between parent and child. Favoritism hurts everyone within a family. It can damage the parental relationship with the favored child, who may grow up feeling guilty. It can damage the sibling relationships as well.

13 Unfavored Children are Likely to Suffer

Imagine growing up believing you are not as loved as your sibling(s). Children who perpetually live in a sibling’s shadow often exhibit aggressive personalities. They are always striving to feel special and valued. Often, they struggle academically. As a result, they may suffer from lack of confidence and low self-esteem which often follows them into adulthood and can lead to depression.

12 Favoritism can Lead to Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Children who believe they are the less favored sibling are twice as likely to turn to alcohol and/or drugs in later life. An interesting note to this statistic is that the link between perceived favoritism and drug and alcohol abuse is non-existent among strong and healthy families who regularly engage with one another and are committed to each other.

11 Favoritism Hurts the “Favored” Child More than it Benefits Them

Some parenting experts believe that being the favored child has its upside. They are the ones showered with affection and are often not lacking for confidence and ambition. However, despite any benefits received from this extra attention, the negative fall-out seems to outweigh the good.

The so-called favorite child will grow up under a shadow of guilt and as a result not only will their sibling relationships suffer, but the relationship you have with them may as well. Imagine growing up in a house fraught with resentment and accusations. The consequences from this will be long-lasting and far-reaching and will most likely plague your children well into adulthood.

10 Favored Children are Likely to Suffer

So-called favored children are often imbued with confidence and a superior dose of self-esteem – which can easily lead to a sense of entitlement if left unchecked. They may grow up believing they are “above the law”. Unfortunately, when children are not held accountable nor suffer consequences for their behavior, they receive a rude awakening when they become adults living in the real world.

It is also not uncommon for favored children to struggle as adults within intimate personal relationships. They may have a hard time finding a partner who loves them as unconditionally as their parents did.

9 Break the Cycle of Family Conflict

So you may or may not actually favor one child over another. But if favoritism is perceived, then there’s a problem and it’s up to you as a parent to fix it. The first step in doing so is to break the cycle of your toxic family dynamic. There is obviously conflict within your family construct – maybe between you and your child or between siblings. When dealing with conflict, it is easy to become trapped in specific roles which consistently play out the same way every time. Don’t allow this to happen.

Be cognizant of family triggers which often lead to conflict and find a different approach. This can prove to be a complex situation so if the problem is too big for you to figure out on your own, there is no shame in seeking out the guidance of an expert.

8 Focus on Parenting Styles that Work

Don’t concern yourself with the tit-for-tat approach when it comes to dealing with your children. You will end up digging yourself into a bottomless parenting hole. As you know, each of your children is a unique individual with a different personality, dealing with a variety of struggles. As a result, it doesn’t make sense to attempt to parent each child by taking a cookie cutter approach. Once you figure out your children, you’ll know what styles will work best in terms of guidance, discipline, and praise. 

7 Search Out Unique Traits in All Your Children

Once you discover the various aspects of your children’s personalities, emotions, and behaviors that make them unique individuals, you will better be able to value and respect them for who they are. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to be similar to a person in order to respect and value all they have to offer. You can enjoy a close and loving relationship even with people completely different than yourself.

Don’t make the mistake of comparing your children to one another – look at each child as a complete and separate entity. By modeling this approach of respecting difference, you will teach your children a valuable lesson that will not only benefit all of their own personal relationships but will help them live an emotionally healthy and fulfilling life.

For children, it is very easy to feel loved when they know they are respected, valued and appreciated.

6 Show Your Love

Another point on which all parenting experts agree – make a point of showing your love to your children. Don’t just assume they know you love them and leave it at that. Tell them often. Even if you are not naturally a warm and cuddly person, take steps to be warm to your children. They need this warmth from you so don’t let them down.

Especially when your children are angry at you or feel they are being mistreated in some way – it’s important to tell them that you love them and that is the reason you are providing them with

guidance and discipline.

5 Spend One-on-One Time With All Your Children

Just as it is nice to spend quality time together as a family, it’s just as nice to have one-on-one time with each of your children now and again. This may be an impossible feat to accomplish each week depending on how busy your schedule is and how many children you have. So be realistic in your plans and don’t set yourself up for failure.

Also, don’t feel that one-on-one time means expensive or time consuming, big deal events. Even just heading to the mall on an errand, going to the grocery store, grabbing a snack together or playing a game of cards counts as quality time together.

It’s often difficult to find outings or activities that are equally enjoyable for the entire family which is why it’s important to spend time with each child on their own terms. Making time for each of your children reminds them that they are special to you.

4 Put in the Effort to Bond

It is totally normal to bond more naturally and easily with one child over another. It may take more time and effort to bond with a specific child.

As a parent, it is up to you to make this happen. Take steps to understand your child’s thought processes and points of view. Talk to them, engage with them and take part in activities that are important and fun for them. As a result, you will learn more about them, probably gain some insight and perspective into their personality and maybe even enjoy yourself in the process.

Bonding isn’t always a natural process – sometimes it needs a bit of nudging or even some elbow grease to get it going. In the end, it will be worth the effort!

3 Be Cognizant of How You Talk About Your Children to Others

It’s only natural to be a proud parent and to brag to your friends from time to time about your kids and their accomplishments. But if you find that you always seem to boast more about one child over another, things can get tricky.

That doesn’t mean that stopping all bragging will fix the problem – neither will seeking out reasons to brag. Just by being aware of this one-sided issue, you are already well on your way to correcting it.

2 Rethink Your Reward System

Especially if you have a child who struggles behaviorally, you may not want to base rewards strictly on good behavior. It may seem like you are pitting one child against the other and then before you know it you will be headed down a path toward having a good child and a bad child.

1 Take Steps to Eliminate Stress

It is often when we feel the most stressed and under pressure that we end up saying something we can’t take back or behave in a manner that leaves us feeling ashamed of ourselves. When clouded by stress, you may be incapable of judging the fairness (or unfairness) of your actions in certain situations, especially when dealing with your kids.

If your mind is already running on overdrive, the last thing you need on your plate is a family squabble to deal with. The quick and easy way out is often to punish the “squeaky wheel” rather than take the time to figure out what is actually happening within the family.

Do what you can to eliminate your stressors. Of course, everyone has stressful days now and again – but when you are dealing with your children and you feel like you are going to lose your temper, make it common practice to cool down and calm yourself before interacting with them.

If you are calm and collected, you will be able to better focus on the situation at hand and deal with it accordingly.

More in Did You Know...