What to Do If Your Child Thinks You Are Playing Favorites

I wasn’t entirely surprised when, in the midst of recent disagreements, my 11-year-old son expressed his frustration by telling me that he thought I loved his little sister more than him. This is a fairly common move that most parents hear at some point, and I certainly remember breaking it at least a couple of times when I didn’t get the attention I deserved from my mom.

But after the obligatory “Oh, that’s funny!” to which most parents probably reflexively respond when faced with this familiar scenario, I thought about it later. He’s right? Should I play a favorite?

Obviously, I don’t love one of my children more than the other. But his sister and I have a more similar temperament and sense of humor. Is it possible that I will unknowingly send him a message that I have a beloved child? And if so, what can I do to fix it?

“Most of the times children say these things are almost always about attention, be it emotional attention or physical attention,” says Loretta Rudd, project director, clinical assistant and coordinator of the hospital’s child development and family research program. Memphis University.

Taking statements of favoritism lightly can have negative consequences for children later in life. Psychology Today notes that, among other things, “disadvantaged children” may be at greater risk of depression, substance abuse, more aggressiveness, or poor academic performance. Healthline also notes that favoritism doesn’t even have to be real – just knowing they are the least fortunate child can lead to similar negative consequences later in life.

The good news is that in most cases, parents can simply use healthy communication habits to turn accusations of favoritism into learning moments.

Explain how a difference in age means a difference in responsibilities

One simple way that differences in rules for siblings can begin to manifest in accusations of favoritism is when the older child begins to receive more privileges. Older children may stay up late, have more freedom to talk or meet with friends, watch shows or games on more mature topics, or do other activities with less strict parental supervision.

When younger siblings notice this and believe that parental bias or favoritism is the culprit, it is important to explain the additional responsibilities that are usually associated with these privileges.

“There may be social norms that the older child learns first,” says Rudd. “So they get what the younger child doesn’t have. But if you explain to them that as they achieve [in development] they will have such an opportunity. You can’t promise them they’ll get it, but just explain that with privilege comes responsibility and be really clear and honest [best]. “

Because younger children are attention-focused, they can reinforce responsibility lessons when asked to do something. For example, saying that we can play a game or go cycling after the kitchen is clean is a way to subtly teach them that sometimes entertainment or privilege requires doing less fun tasks in the first place.

There are times when children just need to be treated differently. In the conversation, it is noted that sometimes a brother or sister is sick, injured, has special needs, or there are other circumstances that can force parents to treat one child differently. These reasons should be talked about with age-appropriate transparency.

If parents start to show this level of transparency with their children at an earlier age, it will pay off as they get older.

“It’s about working hard when they’re young,” says Rudd. “If you help them develop emotional regulation and social skills when they are early in childhood, 0-4, it will be easier for you. This does not mean that everything will be smooth when they are teenagers or teenagers, but it will be easier if you take the time to talk about it. “

Recognize and value your children’s differences

It is easy enough to see the obvious character differences between several children. However, understanding the individual needs that create these differences can be a little more difficult.

At an early age, when toddlers do not have enough words to explain when they feel jealous or are not getting the attention they deserve or need, parents can still show all their children that they are loved through physical interaction and attention, while using words to expressions of love.

“When they’re young, it really has to do with physical and emotional attachment,” says Rudd. “They usually don’t have enough words to say, ‘You like him more than me.’ But they will do things like grab, beat, or cling to Mom or Dad. It’s actually about using words to explain to the kids that you love both of them. “

These conversations become more detailed as they get older. Parents can highlight or focus on specific aspects of their children’s personality or traits and show that they notice their unique personality.

“You tell them you love them for their personality,” says Rudd. “This is largely due to the fact that parents will spend time and energy using words and really just speaking openly.”

Find individual time for each child

For busy families, especially large families, making time for each child can be challenging. But keep in mind that attention needs are not always the same.

“Sometimes one person in a family needs more attention at a certain time than another,” says Rudd. “It doesn’t have to happen on a daily basis. If you can handle it, that would be ideal, but if not, just find one day a week to walk with a parent. “

Rudd uses bedtime as an example to set aside a few minutes of individual time with each child just to check it out. Another key aspect to keep in mind for parents is that children’s interests change quickly, so be flexible about how you spend that individual time. with them this is also the key.

“Parents cannot assume that just because they were in elementary school, for example, they liked ballet, they will like it in elementary school,” says Rudd. “Their interests are likely to change, so it’s important to stay informed.”

Model good communication habits yourself

By far the best thing parents can do is demonstrate healthy communication in their relationships with their children and other adults. Children watch, observe and will model behavior and tactics, whether they are healthy or negative.

“The phrase, ‘Children learn how they live,’ is true,” says Rudd. “So, if parents can manage their emotions and have good emotional regulation and the ability to express even very strong feelings appropriately, children are watching. They watch how parents deal with conflict, and when we do the dirty work, they see it too. “

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