by: Michael Kabel


            There was a brother and sister in my childhood neighborhood that all the other parents pointed to as an example of almost negligent favoritism. The older of the two, a boy, had crooked feet and was portly and ungainly, smart but bookish, and awkward around adults and, later, girls. The younger girl in the family was a princess: pretty and precocious, a ballerina and majorette almost from the time she could hold a baton, the perfect Southern debutante in the making.

            "The way their parents love one child and ignore the other," my mother once said, watching the two of them together. "It's enough to make your heart break for the boy."


The Seeds of Favoritism  

            Favoritism in many families is, to use the British euphemism, "the elephant in the living room." No one mentions it much or talks about it in great detail, but it’s more common and more potent than many families are willing to admit, even among themselves.

            Children grow up and perform in different ways, experts say, and it's often difficult for one parent not to develop affection for one child in different ways than for another. One sibling might take after the parent in mannerisms or facial features; another might go out of his way to please the parents where the other sibling does not. Favoritism, like a weed beneath a house, grows while the parent may not even be aware of its existence. But for the child caught on the low side of that preference, the shame and low self-confidence are painfully apparent.


Recognizing Favoritism Where It Exists

            Favoritism frequently also exists only in the minds of jealous or otherwise hurt children, so detecting its actual presence inside the family is almost always tricky. But warning signs include buying more presents for one child over another, punishing less severely for the same offense, or centering more family events around the favored child.

            Sometimes loved ones or relatives outside the family perceive favoritism by virtue of their more detached perspective. Consulting someone familiar with the family workings and seeking their honest appraisal can be effective, if the advice is listened to and taken to heart. From there, the parent or parents can take steps to reverse the favoring behavior and attempt to treat the children with fairness and balance.


Living Past Favoritism

            Besides the deleterious effects to the second-favored child, the favored child often matures with unrealistic perceptions of his own importance, which can in turn lead to frustrations later in life when dealing with others and with society as a whole. Favored children tend to have severe difficulty dealing with disappointment and rejection, and may work less to achieve approval than others.

            The most effective solution rests with the parents making concerted efforts to curtail any favoritism on their part, treating each child fairly and judiciously in all situations. This perhaps calls for more detached parenting, but the extra effort is crucial in establishing an home environment that’s stable and nurturing for all the children in the household.