Health Features

Parent Trap: The Favored Child

A mom walked into the playroom to find her 5-year-old daughter crying because her 18-month-old brother had pulled her hair. “I know it hurts to have that done to you, but he’s too young to know that pulling hair hurts,” was the mother’s response. The daughter wasn’t appeased, and a few minutes later, the mom heard the boy squalling. When she entered the room, the girl looked up triumphantly and exclaimed, “He knows now!”

I would guess that at some point, most kids have felt that their parents favored one of their siblings. My experience tells me that parents love all their kids equally, but it’s also true that a parent can find it easier to connect with certain kids more than others. This may occur because of similar interests, i.e. many dads bond easier with sons or daughters who are into sports. Some children are tougher to get close to because they are so much like us in ways that annoy us, like an intense parent with a strong-minded child. The opposite may also hold true. An outgoing mother might find it hard to relate to an introverted daughter.

Some kids are born for the spotlight, attracting attention by sheer force of personality. The baby of the family often learns to stand out by being loud and ‘out there.’ The straight-A student can get accolades in families where grades are important, just as star athletes can monopolize a lot of their sporty family’s time, energy and resources. So what’s a parent to do?

Children need to learn that there’s a difference between being equal and being fair. At certain times, one sibling might get more time and attention, like a second-semester high school senior or a child performing in a play for four days. The attention paid to each child may not be equal at these times, but it’s ‘fair’ because, over time, things balance out.

Parents need to be mindful of issues when relating with a child who is harder to connect with. In these instances, they should make a point of spending special time with that child. Like having one-on-one dates or just carving out special time at home. This might require parents to engage in activities they aren’t used to doing, like doing anime with an artsy teenage daughter or watching Harry Potter movies with a Potter head. It’s also good to be conscious about not emphasizing achievement over participation; don’t make a big deal about great grades or winning championships. All children deserve to have their interests and passions validated whether or not they are a ‘star.’

Every child has qualities that need to be acknowledged and valued, and each child deserves lots of special time with their parents in order to feel loved. Do your best to be fair, and be willing to stretch yourself to connect with kids who are tougher to bond with.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who specializes in counseling girls ages 6 through college. He recently launched an online video parenting course, Taking Flight: Everyday Parenting Wisdom to Help Girls Soar. For more information, visit