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Do you have a ‘favourite’ child?

SINGAPORE – Parents usually advice their children to treat everyone equally. But parents are sometimes guilty of practicing favouritism with their own children too, and it could range from just siding with one particular child in arguments, or even be as serious as punishing one child more than the others, for no obvious reason whatsoever. This however, does not necessarily mean that the love they have for their children differ.

Do you have a ‘favourite’ child?

Photo: Delfi de la Rua/Unsplash

SINGAPORE – Parents usually advice their children to treat everyone equally. But parents are sometimes guilty of practicing favouritism with their own children too, and it could range from just siding with one particular child in arguments, or even be as serious as punishing one child more than the others, for no obvious reason whatsoever. This however, does not necessarily mean that the love they have for their children differ.

“It is common for parents to relate differently to each of their children,” said Dr Sara Delia Menon, a clinical psychologist at Alliance Counselling. “The interaction between parenting style and child temperament can impact the family dynamic and create a sense that a parent ‘gets along’ better with one of their children.

“However, although parents can prefer or find it easier to spend time with one child compared to another, this rarely means that they have differing amounts of love for their children,” she added.

This concept of ‘favourite’ child could also be more common in Asian families.

Ms Swanie Khoo, a marriage and family therapist at Relationship Matters, explained the age-old favouritism in some Asian families where boys are favoured over girls. The concept of ‘male supremacy’ is no secret as families held on to the belief that the males would carry the family name whilst the females are married off, taking on their husbands’ surnames and become part of their family. Men, however, stay and belong in their family of origin their entire lives.

But gender is not the only reason for parents’ favouritism. Khoo listed other factors too – birth order, child’s temperament and personality, parents’ stress (such as financial and work stresses), and marital stress.

Whatever the reason, Khoo stressed that favouritism should not be practiced.

“Favouritism is unhealthy – regardless of whether it is ‘normal’ or ‘unfair’,” she said. “Favouritism is a root cause of dysfunctional relationships, resentment, and affects a child’s self-esteem. In situations when it is unavoidable, for example, with newborns and children with special needs, parents who explain its necessity to the other children can usually offset any negative consequences.”

Long-lasting effects

Khoo explained that parental favouritism can have detrimental and long-lasting effects on children.

Issues of favouritism do not go away if they are unaddressed and many adults remember how they were unfavoured when they were a child. This affects their sense of self and their relationships in adult life. Also, having been unfavoured as a child can create a sense of need for justice.

In situations where parents are aware that they are practicing favouritism, they should be more cognisant of, and manage their words and actions so that none of their children feel left out.

Dr Menon suggested creating opportunities for the family to interact as a group, as well as individually. This is especially relevant for larger families, where it is important for parents to spend time with their children on a one-to-one basis.

Parents should also encourage a sense that the family unit is a team, where no one wins if anyone loses.

“It helps to take a step back to observe typical interactions with each child,” Dr Menon advised. “If the parent notices recurring patterns of consistently experiencing frustration with or engaging in scolding with a particular child, it is important to pay attention to and repair the relationship.

“Being fair is not always about treating all children equally, but can be about giving each child what they need,” she added.

Don’t get defensive

And, if you feel guilty about having a favourite child, the best way to deal with it is to address the issue up front.

“Take a step back and evaluate your emotions underlying those actions that may have favoured one child over the other, and make repair – apologise and acknowledge how you have caused hurt, and make changes,” said Ms Khoo.

“Do not just let it slip or get defensive. Instead, address the issue and give an ear to what your child has brought up and talk about the issues. When issues are not dealt with, they could cause further resentment in the relationships,” she added.

Parents TODAY spoke to agreed that they do sometimes tend to favour one child over another but being aware of the situation means they often try their best not to make any child feel left out.

Finance manager Lyndee Ng, 44, is a mum to two sons aged 17 and 14.

“Many parents tend to side with their younger child but it doesn’t mean we love the older one any less, it just seems that way,” she said. “Unfortunately, the older one may feel prejudiced and less doted on. I try to be equal in treatment by offering the same thing to both kids and not choosing one over the other. And, when both are home, I’ll try to spend equal time with each of them.”

Designer Derek Chew, 42, admitted that he favours his only daughter over her two brothers as he has a special bond with her, although she often gets teased for being “Daddy’s girl”.

“The experience of being a father to a daughter after having two sons felt totally different to me and I tend to feel more protective towards her,” he shared. “As a result, she gets away with a lot more and my wife and sons seem to think so too. But it’s not because I love her more than my sons, I just treat her slightly differently because I relate to her in a different way.”

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