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6 Signs You May Be Playing Favorites With Your Children

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Several months ago, my husband and I were watching the show This Is Us. If you’ve never watched, it is the story of three grown siblings all born the same day, two twins and one adopted. The show is comprised of flashbacks to when the siblings were kids and then connects it to what they are struggling with during the present day. In this particular episode, the family is in group therapy and the oldest sibling confronts his mom with the charge of loving his brother more. His mom vehemently denies it, claiming to love everyone equally. After an intense exchange of words, she finally blurts out in tears, “He was just easier!”

No parent intends to play favorites with their children. 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 6 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 superstar 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.

Tell us! How do you balance how you treat each child?


Do you know why I love you?

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