Were you your parents’ favourite?
Looking back on our childhood, most of us with siblings can probably pinpoint certain incidents that made us feel more or less favoured by our parents. And in some cases, many of such incidents over time could have left us feeling that we were extra special to our parents, or conversely, that we were loved less than our siblings.
Singapore Celebrity TV-Host Diana Ser shared about her own experience as the “favoured child” in her family. Growing up, she did sense that her parents were extra partial to her, but instead of making her feel happy, she found herself feeling indignant on her younger sister’s behalf. On hindsight now, she realizes that it was not so much that her parents had loved her any more or less, but that they had simply treated her differently, according to her behavior.
According to her, “it is the perception of favouritism – not necessarily any differential treatment itself – that does the harm.” Sometimes it is the more obedient child who appears to be favoured, because he receives less scoldings from his parents. Other times, it could be that one child seems more loved because he loves the piano and gets to take piano lessons. Meanwhile his sister, who much prefers the drums, is asked to take piano lessons together with her brother.
Since every child is unique and every parent-child relationship is dynamic and constantly evolving, we as parents tend to respond to our children according to the prevailing situation, their gender and birth order, their known personality, and sometimes based on our own childhood experiences. Despite our best intentions, our words and actions can make one child feel more or less favoured more than another.
See also: Preventing middle child syndrome
What are some signs of favouritism that we can watch out for?
Dr Vanessa von Auer, Clinical Director of VA Psychology Centre says that parents should check themselves if they are consistently making allowances for one child, which is not extended to the other children. Sometimes there are even subtle behavioral cues, such as smiling when they see the favoured child versus having a neutral expression when they see the other children. These are all signs of parental bias.
Having your spouse onboard to mutually help to check for any shows of favouritism can be helpful. Another way to safeguard against demonstrating favouritism, says Vanessa, is to have a behavioral plan in the home. This plan sets out clear consequences for when behavior X occurs in any child.
For example, if one child snatches another’s toy, the consequence would be for the snatcher to return the toy or be asked to take a time-out. This consequence would then be meted out whenever behavior X occurs, regardless of which child is the instigator. Such plans help maintain consistency and ensure that parents come across as “fair” when disciplining their children.
Rectify your actions once you realise them
Lastly, for parents who realize that they have been unconsciously showing favouritism, Vanessa has a word of encouragement for you – it’s never too late to rectify your actions.
Children are very forgiving, resilient and recover from parental favouritism over time. That said, long-term favouritism can cause significant emotional problems and destroy the family relationship. Parents need to apologise for their wrong attitude or for how their actions may have been perceived, and ultimately seek to restore a right relationship with the child who has felt neglected or been treated unfairly. If the child is old enough to communicate well, parents can even encourage them to remind Daddy and Mummy if they feel they are being treated unfairly.
At the end of the day, we are learning how to parent on-the-job too, and mistakes like these can often be made.
What’s important is that we learn from our mistakes, make amends, and move on, giving our best to our family and to our children.
By Dorothea Chow
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