Most parents are aware that showing favouritism to one child is hurtful to the others, as we're told we're supposed to love all our children equally. But regardless of how hard we try, some parents favour one over the others. And the kids know it. Ask them, "Who is mom or dad's favorite?" and they'll pipe up quickly with a name.
But how can that be? It's not like we go around saying "I love you more" or "You're my favourite." No, it's because there are subtle actions we make that unwittingly show favouritism, which we are completely unaware of.
Check out this list of ways we fall into the favouritism trap, and learn how to sidestep them!
1. Never compare.
When we compare one child to another, our intentions are good. We are hoping the contrast will spur motivation. However, comments like "Your brother is already done his homework, if you would focus, you'd be done, too" or "Your sister keeps her room clean, what is your problem?" are really stating that we like the behaviour of their sibling better.
To young children, this translates into the mistaken belief that you must love them more too. Instead of being motivated, they are demoralized and left feeling like they can't live up to the preferred sibling.
2. Never act as a judge.
Kids will blatantly ask you to take sides. Whose picture is better? Who held their breath longer? Who ran faster? I am warning you, parents, even if the winner is clear, don't agree to act as the judge in their competitive games. No good will come of this. It may seem so objective that you couldn't possibly show favouritism by telling the truth, but the mind of a child is an interesting machine. If a child feels that their sibling is preferred and then you add evidence of them being better at something, the child may internalize that judgment, that they are less than their sibling.
3. Never set them up to compete.
Often we spur our children to compete in the name of time management: first one to the bath or first one to the car for school wins! It's a great way to speed up dawdlers, but inevitably that competition will end with someone being the winner and someone being the loser. The loser feels inferior to their sibling and sees how the winner is praised and glorified.
4. Never expect one child to set an example.
If you, the parent, are an older child, you know how much a kid resents their younger sibling when they're told they have to set a good example for him or her. It's as if your parents are saying they are more interested in ensuring your younger sibling's experience is great, while your experiences have to be thwarted. A child can see this as favouritism: "My sibling's needs are more important to mom and dad than mine!"
5. Never take sides in a fight.
You may not realize that when you get involved in your children's fights, you are actually taking sides. Now you've made it two against one, and that will feel like favouritism.
Parents believe they are stepping in to correct some miscarriage of justice one child has transgressed against another. However, this is problematic. It actually takes two children to agree to fight. That's right — fighting takes co-operation! Both children are capable of changing the direction of the fight, either towards accelerating the conflict or returning to peace.
When you step in and defend one child, you are not holding them responsible for their complicities in the conflict. Too often the child who plays the role of the victim will poke the bear, who, in turn, throws a punch and gets in trouble with a parent. Now who looks golden and is preferred? But left to their devices, they will settle the score more quickly and without feeling parental favouritism.
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