Playing favouritism may often lead to sibling rivalry.
WHEN PARENTS PLAY FAVOURITES
By Aarthi Gunnupuri.
My daughter was always better than my son at academics,” says Ritika Chaudhary, 38, homemaker. “When she did well in her exams, I would reward her with gifts and privileges. It felt natural to deprive my son when he didn’t perform as well.” Over time, Ritika’s 12-year-old lost his cricket bat, favourite video game and internet privileges. Because Ritika continued to play favourites, her son began to ignore his studies. Soon, he showed signs of behavioural problems too, and the family needed to see a counsellor. It was only after a few sessions that Ritika realised she was using academic achievement as an excuse to play favourites.
Blame it on genetics
Excuse or no excuse, the fact is, most parents have a favourite child. “It is human to be drawn to one person over another, even parenthood cannot neutralise this tendency,” says psychiatrist Dr Yusuf A Matcheswalla. “Often, you will find that the child favoured by the parent is also preferred by others in the family. It’s because this child has certain endearing qualities.”
Writer Jeffrey Kluger, who dedicates a chapter in his book The Sibling Effect: What Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us to the subject, believes parents who claim to love their children equally are lying. “Having children is an act of genetic narcissism to begin with,” he says. “We are hardwired to do it. What we look for in a child are traits that remind us of ourselves. You want the most direct portal for your genes in the following generation.” While entrepreneur Ispita Deb, 32, would never think of saying it out loud, she agrees that she does look at her eight-year-old daughter more favourably. “I love both my children,” she says. “But because Shania is more like me than my son, I enjoy spending more time with her. She loves puzzles like me and we love watching Disney movies. So while I treat both of them the same, my daughter is the apple of my eye.”
Learn to accept it
Most mothers claim that they could never discriminate. But school psychologist Dr Seema Darode says that sibling rivalry is so common precisely because parents play favourites. “It is very hard for parents to admit to this,” she says. “I don’t have a favourite child. But I do compare my kids often,” says 31-year-old homemaker Kalpita Bhirud. “My son, the younger one, is very mischievous and I always tell him to model his behaviour on his sister’s. I don’t think that is favouritism.”
The best way to prevent hurting a child with favouritism is to accept that it is natural to have preferences when it comes to people, and to be aware of it. “When children are victims of favouritism, their reactions vary based on their personality type,” says Dr Darode. “Some children may cope with the stress by thumb-sucking. Attention-seeking behaviour is commonly seen in children who are feeling unloved.” And parents, of course, should try hard to be fair to all their children. “But if you’re wracked with guilt, or are unable to modify your behaviour, talk to a counsellor,” says Dr Darode.
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