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Have a Favorite Child?

Parenting Pro Weighs In

As my children get older, I can feel myself starting to favor one of my kids over the other. Is this normal?

Parents can feel more ease with one child and more strain with another. Research shows that each parent and child have an original relationship, even compared with others in the same family. Children are individuals and have varying temperaments, personalities, and styles of communicating. You are also an individual, and it may be in your nature to connect more effortlessly with one child. You should expect to have a one-of-a-kind tie with each child. However, each one should be strong, healthy, and rewarding in its own right. These qualities ensure the child feels secure, the parent feels satisfied, and the overall family functions well together. A sense of security is the key to your child trusting others, building lasting friendships, treating others with kindness, believing in themselves, and enjoying happiness with you. You should be concerned if you frequently feel overwhelmed, angry, or defeated after interacting with one child, or if you are avoiding spending time or notice an absence of communication with any child.

Making changes begins with avid observation. How often does your child approach you? Is he comfortable asking you for comfort, help, protection, play and shared delight? Watch your child’s eyes, face, voice and body posture to get clues about his thoughts and feelings. Look at problem behaviors as the tip of an iceberg, and try to read the need driving them. For example, a child having a meltdown may be overstimulated and need to rest. Silly antics may be a way to feel special or appreciated.

Next, explore your reactions to the child. When your child approaches you in these ways, how do you feel? Notice thoughts running through your mind and sensations in your body. What are you reminded of? What cues are you giving your child in return? Do you tend to look away, frown, or hunch your shoulders? Does your voice become loud or quiet or strained? Cultivate a non-judgmental state of mind and approach these observations with curiosity and good intentions. Learning new things about your parenting can trigger guilt and shame. You must respond to these feelings with firm reminders that it is never too late to enhance your parenting, and that all parenting includes making mistakes and learning (research has also confirmed this!).

Your observations may reveal straightforward barriers to connecting with the child in question. Perhaps the struggles occur when you are both exhausted and hungry. Maybe you are confused because your parents never tolerated such behaviors. Your child may be tackling developmental tasks that are particularly challenging to you, such as toddlers learning self-control or adolescents pushing their parents away.  Once you have some data, it is time to return to your question: Am I favoring one child? What are the reasons this may be occurring? And finally, how can I nurture this relationship and ensure that I share a close and positive bond with each of my children?

The best strategies for investing in your child will start with investing in yourself. Take inventory of the ways you are feeding your emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. Commit to these needs even if that means starting with one minute of self-care a day. Get yourself squared away so you have energy to re-set this relationship. Spend some undivided time with your child. Explore, play, and have fun together. Look at the world from your child’s perspective, and let them choose activities within parameters you set. Take advantage of opportunities to provide help, comfort, and delight. If you still see an imbalance after some time, seek consultation from a professional trained to understand family relationships, parenting, and child development.

You and your child are worth it!


Mary Beth Murray is a mother and licensed clinical social worker with more than fifteen years of experience helping children and families. She works with clients through Partners in Parenting in Richmond, specializing play therapy, parent consultations, family therapy, and individual therapy for children, teens, and young adults.
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