As a parent of more than one child, you’ve likely heard claims of favoritism. Whether these come as boasts or complaints, it’s important to pay attention to how your affection and attention are perceived. No parent sets out to choose a favorite, but it’s normal to find commonalities with one child or another. Shared interests, unique experiences, and personality traits bring people together, and these connection factors are no different with families.
As you navigate parenthood, be mindful of how you treat your kids, aiming to love them equally and fairly. Each child has unique needs, and how you meet them matters, especially when siblings can feel like competitors. There’s no manual when it comes to parenting. However, there are some best practices to consider when it comes to keeping it fair.
The oldest kid is the training ground for new parents, for obvious reasons. A firstborn child is a parent’s first foray into the only job they’ve held with no prerequisites. Parents may have opinions on how they were raised, perpetuating their childhood experience or deviating from it completely. Whether you’re starting fresh or passing on long-held practices, it’s important to stay consistent.
Establish family rules in core areas like technology, curfews, and behavior. If your family sticks to maturity rating guidelines for entertainment, apply this rule to all of your kids. It can be easy to bend the rules and let your 11-year-old watch a PG-13 movie with your teenager. However, doing so tells your older kid that the rules they lived by don’t apply to younger siblings. This can lead to feelings of animosity and resentment with each rule shift.
Likewise, when your children are granted access to technology devices is an important decision. Think about when it makes sense to introduce devices well before your children would be given access to them. Younger kids may benefit from a lower-tech tablet with education-focused content and parental controls. Consider starting with a kids phone for connectivity and safety, saving full-fledged devices for when they’re older. Set age and behavior markers for when to allow certain privileges and responsibilities, sticking to them for each child.
Older kids can get especially jealous of a new baby, even if they’re able to understand that infants are time-consuming. The same is true if one child has more extracurricular activities than the others, sometimes occupying entire weekends. Combat jealousy with intentional time spent with each of your children, using this special time to connect.
If one of them has a doctor’s appointment, for example, stop for a treat before heading back home. Simple moments spent together can allow you to get to know each child on an individual level.
Use ordinary moments like making breakfast, driving to practice, and working in the yard to speak to your kids. As they get older, they may not want to open up. However, if you’ve managed to create a habit of one-on-one time, you may develop bonds that tamp down teenage angst.
Each kid is their own unique blend of feelings, interests, and ideas. While you may feel more drawn to one thanks to common interests, seek to understand all your kids as individuals. Many parents find that their children open their minds and world to things they’d never considered.
Encourage each child to explore their interests, and cheer them on, even if it’s new to you. In some families, one child may express an interest in sports while the rest of the family is more into nature. Blend their interests with the rest of the family’s, making time for their particular fascinations even if they aren’t in the majority.
Seek to understand what makes each child’s heart happy and learn more about their chosen interests. Create a culture of support within your household, celebrating achievements and accomplishments equally. A chess tournament victory may not earn the external acclaim that a homecoming touchdown would, so make sure you celebrate both at home.
Encourage your children to show up for one another, too. Mutual support and respect are all part of creating a fair and loving environment for and with your children.
Parenting is one area of life where you don’t know if you’re doing it right until it’s too late. The harsh reality is that each parent is just doing their best with what they have. As you focus on fairness, remember that equality and equity aren’t synonyms. Equality would have each child getting a basketball, even if only one likes the sport. Equity means attending your daughter’s basketball games and accompanying your son to the anime convention.
Each child will have needs and interests that differ from one another. While consistent rules help keep things fair, understanding each of your children’s personalities will help you determine what they need. When you approach parenthood with fairness in mind, your kids will notice, even if the word “fair” doesn’t materialize. You’ll know that you’re applying rules, attention, and behavior toward loving your kids equally and for who they are.