This week, it’s hard to escape the concept of favoritism. It’s on the cover of Time, it’s on the blogs, it’s lodged itself firmly in the back of my mind in most interactions I’m having with my two girls.
The talk originated with a new book that I wrote about earlier this month, (which many readers commented on). It's called “The Sibling Effect:What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us,” by Time writer Jeffrey Kluger, (Riverhead Books, September 2011). One of the issues it tackles is parental favoritism. Kluger argues that every parent has a favorite child. No denying it, he says; the trick is to manage it.
One commentary that I’ve found thoughtful on the management question is from an occasional contributor to On Parenting, Washington parenting coach Meghan Leahy. She writes on her own blog that favoritism is most often rooted in differing temperaments.
“Parent favoritism exists, oftentimes, because a parent “meshes” better or more with one of the children; and/or the parent seems to really “not get along” with one of their children: undiagnosed temperament differences,” she writes.
Leahy goes on to offer some tips to parents on how to identify and accept temperamental differences. “Simply recognizing a temperament mismatch can help alleviate negative feelings, help the parent address misbehaviors with positivity and hope, and can help negate many the effects of favoritism.”
Here’s Leahy’s advice:
• Get one book about temperament (with tests in it) and one book about normal child development. Figure out if your child is in a development change and you are simply challenged by that (babies throwing food on the floor), or if you and your child are struggling because you have some fundamental differences (child does not respond to your sunny optimism with equal enthusiasm).
• Test yourself, partner, care givers and all of your children using the temperament scales.
• Understand that all temperament traits are neither good nor bad, they simply are. Your child’s activity level (one of the traits) can be through the roof and irritating now, but it will come in handy when he is captain of the soccer team in high school and then later, the coach of Little League as a father.
• Stop personalizing the struggle. Your child is not out to get you, annoy you or challenge you. At the same time, she is not social and friendly to impress you. It’s not about you.
• Give the child what he or she needs. Child lower on the energy scale? Miserable in gymnastics? Go ahead and try the quieter art classes. Child higher on the distractible scale? Find games with a faster pace and quicker outcome (such as Hot Potato or Spot-It).
• Know that the temperament difference is forever, but new behaviors can be cultivated and helped along with training, role modeling and lots of patience.
• Love your children for who they are today, right now. Accepting reality, and our differences, is the ultimate balm for this potential sore.
If you have a favorite, how do you manage it?