Do Parents Play Favorites With Their Kids?
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MIAMI (CBS4) – Many South Floridians have a favorite sports team, or a favorite restaurant, but ask any South Florida parent if they have a favorite child, and the answer will be no, or will it?
Jeffrey Kluger, author of this week’s cover story for Time Magazine, says favoritism in families is very common, more common than many people think.
Many believe parents’ love for their children is supposed to be unconditional and equally distributed but in reality, it isn’t always that simple. Parent-child relationships can be complicated, filled with unique personalities and circumstances.
While parents deny having one child they like more than others, the truth is, they do play favorites. Kluger said favoritism is hardwired in our species, its nature’s way, but the subject is still quite taboo.
Kluger cited a University of California, Davis study that showed about 70-percent of fathers and 65-percent of mothers exhibit a preference for one child or another. For fathers, it’s most often the youngest girl; for mothers, it’s typically the oldest boy. The choice may also be based on beauty, brains or birth order.
Kluger stated the numbers are probably even higher because parents are trying to conceal any bias and most parents don’t even realize they’re doing it.
Josette Weibel agrees. CBS4’s Maggie Newland caught up with the mom of three at a Coral Gables park.
“I bet the statistics are even higher than that,” Weibel said, “but who chooses to admit that is a different story. If 70 percent (admit favoritism) the other 30 percent are in denial.”
Weibel said each of her children is unique, “the firstborn is special because he’s the firstborn and then luckily my middle child is special because she’s the only girl and then my youngest one is like my baby,” she said.
She admitted, though, she does have a favorite: “I think maybe the youngest one because he’s the best behaved.”
Kluger attributed favoritism to a number of possible factors; genes, compassion, sibling order, personality, and gender. The effects of the favoritism can trigger resentment, competitiveness between siblings, and lingering self-esteem problems in children. Kluger, who wrote the book, “The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us,” said he doesn’t pay attention when parents tell him they don’t play favorites.
Instead, he cites psychologists who say parents should focus on minimizing the appearance of any favoritism. Simply put, acknowledge each child’s individuality. He explained that experts say treating children differently is normal as long as the treatment is fair.
Dr. Daniel Bagner, a psychologist at FIU’s Center for Children and Families echoed that. He said the best thing parents can do is try to give all of their children enough attention. He noted, some children may prefer reading a book with their parents while others may want to spend time outdoors. He said favoritism is often just a parent’s reaction to behaviors.
“Depending on what the child’s behavior is like, what the child’s emotion is like, parents might respond differently to those different behaviors,” he said. “When it becomes harmful is if the children perceive their sibling is getting more attention.”
Josette Weibel says she makes an effort to make sure all of her kids feel like they’re the favorite, “and if you’ve done a good job as a parent then they all believe that,” she said.