Parental differential treatment, or favoritism, is measured by positive attention and time we devote to one child over another. Most parents strive not to play favorites because they love all of their children and understand the damaging effects of being unfair. However, there is a measure of guilt that can come with simply feeling more devotion to one child. As parents, we should be encouraged, that this is completely normal. (Yet, never stop striving to keep our time and attention equal.)
According to studies of families in the West and Great Britain, emotional children may receive more attention as opposed to calmer siblings. Parents also respond to each child’s age, sex, and, sometimes, position in the family (that is, birth order). In fact, it is considered standard for parents to react to children’s unique personalities and different developmental levels. (For more: http://family.jrank.org/pages/622/Favoritism-Differential-Treatment.html)
Did you hear that? It is standard. Parents need to cut themselves slack when dealing with kids in the plight of fairness, because just as kids are so different (with different needs) our response to them will be different. The fact is, for an emotional child to mature, they may need more attention. As for the child with a great temperament, they will likely be favored by all…not just parents. So is life. But are we careful to balance all of our kid’s emotional needs? We should try.
Division of Time
I have 4 children. In this lot, one is highly emotional. Simply getting through a simple homework assignment takes an hour! That is, if I sit there with her the whole hour. Compared to her siblings, she will get more of my time. To stay on task, she needs more of my time. To her siblings, this may appear as favoritism and I see that as they all focus on homework and vie for my attention to what they are working on.
There are only so many hours in a day. In those hours, the emotional child may need more time – but not all of that time is positive. If we are careful, we can balance remaining time with positive attention toward the emotional child and among siblings. The important thing is that we do not let the emotional child monopolize all hours. Other children need time, just likely in different ways. Also, for that demanding child, we must remember to distinguish time and positive attention.
Division of Positive Attention
With 4 kids, life is hectic. Therefore, I often gravitate to my child with the best temperament because he is the easiest. He is happy and doesn’t drain me emotionally. This doesn’t make me a bad parent, wanting to be with him. It would if I shamelessly and openly declared him the “best.” It also would be negative if I ignored my other children at his expense. Like most parents, I am careful not to do that. But I know I like spending time with him. So how do we keep that in check as parents?
I once heard someone say that as parents, we will lose our kids if we do not “get into” what they are into. This speaker used a father and teenage daughter as an example. He said his relationship changed with his daughter positively when he took her shopping for 2 hours each Saturday…she loved to shop. Of course, he admitted he would rather be watching football than watching her try on clothes. However, with this sacrifice, he got to know his daughter. She opened up when they were shopping. She talked and he began to see her in a different way and never “lost” her devotion as a teenager. All it took was a couple hours on Saturday doing what she loved.
Positive attention is not just praise or time. I believe it really translates when you are doing something your child likes to do. It is then, that they connect with you – even if their temperament is harder, it will likely be easier in a setting they enjoy.
Most know that showing favoritism has a negative impact on the whole family. We need to be aware that showing a child more time, because they need it, is not favoritism. As we strive to offset that time sacrifice, we don’t need to beat ourselves up by gravitating to the child with the best temperament. Instead, balance positive time with the more temperamental by engaging in settings that they find most comfortable. It is then, that we may know all of our children deeply, and the silent feelings of favoritism will start to fade.