Do you tend to favor one child over another?
It may be normal, but that does not make it ok. When it comes to playing favorites in a household, if a parent aligns him or herself with one child over another, it can disrupt the dynamic of the family.
However, there are ways to handle favoritism in a healthy way, according to Dr. Steven Tobias, psychologist and director of the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown.
"It is completely normal and very common for parents to relate more to one child than another, to have more in common with one than another. But, it can be bad for everybody. It can be bad for other siblings, it can be bad for one child to be favored and it can distort their perception of the world and how they are going to be treated. It can also be bad for the marriage as well when there is more of an alliance with one child, it leaves the other parent out," Tobias said. "What creates a balance in the family is when you have the adults in the household working in one system together and there is a clear boundary from the children."
When one child is favored by a parent, the other children can feel rejected by that parent, they can personalize it and feel inadequate. It can cause jealousy and create peer conflict. It can also give the favored child an over-inflated sense of self, according to Tobias.
So, what can a parent do? First, the parent taking part in the favoring needs to recognize what he or she is doing.
"Parents have to make sure they're approach with both kids is balanced. Ultimately, they want to look at each child as an individual and appreciate them for who they are. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and it's important for parents to see and validate the strengths and positive aspects of each child," Tobias said. "It's also important for parents to attempt to establish a relationship, by spending individual time with that child."
Tobias strongly recommends that parents take turns with their children.
"In our busy and hectic lives, parents often aren't spending enough time with their kids and if they are, it might be with the favorite child or it might be one parent's job to take one kid to their activity and the other parent's job to take the other child. I think it's important to switch it up so that each parent has their own individual time with each child," he said.
It is also important to parent in a very deliberate way.
"If one child is easier or you have more in common with that child and you find yourself gravitating toward him or her, catch yourself doing that and make a deliberate effort to talk and spend time with the other child," Tobias said.