Parenting Vivian | 15 Jun 2011 05:13 pm

The Favorite Problem – Avoiding Favoritism in the Home

No one likes to admit it, but favoritism is a silent presence in millions of families. Often times subtle to the point of becoming ephemeral, favoritism whether real or perceived nonetheless can have devastating psychological impacts on both the favored and the secondary child alike.

Favoritism’s roots and causes

Experts say children grow up, mature and develop in very different ways, even among close siblings. It’s human nature for one parent to approve of a certain pattern of development over another. What mother or father isn’t tempted to lavish affection on the obedient student, the academic achiever, or the affectionate child more than a child who behaves otherwise?

But it’s the children that don’t seek approval that sometimes feel starved for its validation the most. They’re often the victims of favoritism, too, which places their self-esteem at even further risk. Like an infection that spreads if left untreated, the sense of inadequacy that parental favoritism instills can malign the child’s entire self-image.

Recognizing favoritism

Favoritism sometimes begins when a parent show preference to a child based on physical traits or resemblances to their side of the family tree. As mentioned before, behavior may set the standard for preferential treatment, though this is usually after some time has elapsed and the parent recognizes behavioral patterns in both children.

Typical signs of favoritism include rewarding one child more than the other for the same kind of accomplishment; likewise, punishing more severely for the same kind of infraction or misbehavior. Centering more family events around one child, encouraging one child to be more outgoing, or buying more or giving more gifts are also likely signs of preferential treatment.

Because the symptoms are sometimes so hard to detect, many confused or jealous children sometimes perceive favoritism where in fact none exists. Unfortunately for the child and parents alike, the perceived situation can be just as damaging as the actual.

Getting past favoritism

Favored children often have greater difficulty coping with rejection or dismissal later in life. The opposite child, conversely, sometimes becomes more accustomed to working harder to win recognition.

Parents can prevent favoritism by ensuring their treatment of all children remains neutral and balanced. They should also take diligent steps to ensure the perception of favoritism doesn’t exist in any of their children, and work to clear the air should the perception arise. While this does necessitate a great amount of vigilance on the parents’ part, it’s also necessary to successfully raise emotionally well-adjusted children.

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