How to Deal With Parents Who Show Differences Among Siblings

By David Coodin
Children are happiest when parents treat all siblings fairly.
Children are happiest when parents treat all siblings fairly.

One sure way to make siblings jealous of each other is to play favorites with your kids. Children who are treated unequally by their parents are more likely to develop depression, low self-esteem and to have trouble in school. The burden of dealing with unfair parents should never fall on the children themselves, who might be tempted to engage in an unhealthy competition for attention. If parents you know, or of children in your care, are treating their children unequally, gently intervene by offering them strategies for being more fair with their kids.

Listening

Parents might not recognize that they are playing favorites with their children. Tell parents who are treating their kids unequally to listen to their children to understand what they need from them. Children need to feel validated, and those who feel they get less attention than their siblings might feel unaccepted. Make sure parents are aware of how they might be contributing to their child's feelings of unworthiness. Have them ask their kids if they feel unappreciated compared to their siblings.

Language

Sometimes the language we use inadvertently can convey favoritism, even if it is unintended. Urge parents to listen to how they talk to their kids, and to be aware of any differences in how they talk to their children. Let parents know that if they feel they "connect" better with one child over another, they need to make sure their praise is distributed approximately evenly. Parents should also be aware of scolding one child about doing something that they allow another child to do unscathed.

Letting Kids Be Themselves

Children in the same family can be remarkably different from one another. Rather than trying to make all sibling the same, parents should allow different children to be themselves. Tell parents who might be playing favorites not to try to change one child, or to tell him to be more like his sister or brother. As long as their child's behavior is not destructive or dangerous, there is no sense is trying to force a child who is different from the family "norm" to be like everyone else. Make sure parents value each child's individuality.

Find Common Activities

One way for parents to bond with their children is by finding activities they enjoy in common. Parents who play favorite might have more common interests with one child over another. Encourage these parents to find activities they can share with their different children at different times. Even if one child's interests seem wildly divergent from the parents', parents should look for activities such as reading books together or taking a class that they can enjoy with their child.

About the Author

David Coodin began working as a writer in 2005, and has been published in "The Walrus." He contributes to various websites, writing primarily in the areas of education and art. Coodin holds a Ph.D. in English literature from York University in Toronto.