If you’re a parent to more than one child, chances are you’ve been accused, at some point or another, of playing favorites.
Maybe your 10-year-old is upset that her 13-year-old sister is allowed to have an iPhone and she isn’t.
Perhaps one of your children has a learning challenge and requires more help with school work, leaving his sibling feeling neglected.
It’s normal—and even healthy—to treat children differently. After all, they’re each their own individual person with unique needs. But how can you honor their individuality without making it seem like you’re playing favorites?
The Dos and Don’ts: When You Should Treat Your Kids Differently—and When You Shouldn’t
As a mother myself, I know that YOU know you’re not actually playing favorites. Many factors contribute to our daily interactions with our kids: their personality, age, maturity level, even their birth order!
Consider the experience of a first-born child. They’re brought into the world by parents who look at them like deer in headlights—completely inexperienced when it comes to raising a baby. This child may recall being the center of attention, with Mom and Dad anxiously monitoring their every move.
The second-born child, on the other hand, will probably have a different experience—in large part because their parents feel more confident and at ease the second time around.
The truth is, no two children experience the same family in the same way. And no parent experiences each child the same way either! Each kid is unique—and their individuality is precisely why we can’t treat them the same way all the time.
When considering your kids’ individual needs, DO treat them differently according to:
Tailor your approach even when prodding your children to make friends. An introverted child may be more comfortable with a one-on-one playdate, while an extroverted child might enjoy group activities.
That said, don’t forget to give time and attention to the kid who doesn’t have special needs. Some children are so good at being the “strong, supportive sibling” that they don’t know how to ask for help from their parents when they need it. So be proactive about checking in with them!
When my daughter Pia was in 6th grade and we were living in Hong Kong, I left for an extended work trip. Upon my return, I found out that Pia had started taking taxis on her own. My husband was comfortable with this milestone, but boy was I unprepared!
We ended up resolving this conflict through effective communication. The truth of the matter was that Pia was ready and responsible for that level of independence. Luckily, my daughter understood that it was me who had a problem with fear, worry, and letting go. She supported my needs and came to a compromise by agreeing to text me her whereabouts whenever she took a taxi on her own.
When considering your kids’ individual needs, DON’T treat them differently when it comes to:
Treating your kids differently doesn’t mean you’re playing favorites. It means you respect your children as individuals with varied needs and desires.
Explain to your kids why they require different treatment from you at times. But let them know that when it comes to the question of who your favorite is, the answer is “no one”—because you love them equally.
Love and Blessings,
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A 3xTEDx speaker, media contributor, parenting coach, and a mom of two - helping families thrive by using the Guidance Approach to Parenting.