The idea of having a favourite child is taboo in what many think of as ‘good parenting’.
It’s often considered to be unfair and problematic, and can be a huge source of guilt for loving, conscientious parents.
But a recent article in The New York Times provides some interesting and different ways of thinking about family favouritism.
Author Perry Klass suggests that playing favourites doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s your actions, and not emotions, that can be problematic.
Here are some key points to keep in mind when it comes to favouring one child over another:
- DO understand the distinction between love and favouritism — they’re not the same thing! You can love all your children equally while having a particularly inclination to one over the other at different points in time.
- DON’T feel guilty. Having favourites is part of human nature – even when it comes to family dynamics! Guilty feelings may make you feel strained in your relationship with your other children, and this strain can often be more noticeable than the favouritism itself.
- DO invest equally in each child. Even if you’re favouring one child over another at a point in time, make an effort to give your other children some extra attention — something as simple as some more cuddles in the morning can really help.
- DON’T persistently show preference. The danger in favouritism comes from when one child is constantly favoured, and this becomes a lasting part of the family dynamic. This is where favouritism becomes most problematic, and has been shown to significantly increase sibling rivalry.
- DO treat it as a positive thing! Make sure your children know that your love is equal and unconditional, but that approval and esteem need to be earned and can be worth competing for (within reason).
So ditch the guilt and work on finding what you appreciate and admire differently in each child.
The most important takeaway here is that having a favourite from time to time is not necessarily a problem — it’s how you treat your children over the longer term that matters.