Are children sometimes treated unfairly?
When parents have a favorite child
Most parents would never admit they were theirs Treat children unequally and prefer one thing. Studies have shown that this is normal. In this way, parents can expose their unconscious behavior and take countermeasures.
Whether in the Bible with Jacob's sons or in the fairy tale world of the Brothers Grimm - favorite children or their disadvantaged brothers and sisters have always been a popular narrative. For centuries, parents have focused on their oldest or healthiest offspring. The firstborn son inherited the house and the farm in principle. No one was interested in whether other siblings felt that they were being treated unfairly as a result.
Today equal treatment is an educational ideal
Today, in the context of the liberalization and democratization of our society, it is part of the ideal of parents not to give preference to any child. "Good parents are expected to treat their children equally", explains the pedagogue and psychologist Hartmut Kasten in his publication "Favorite children from the perspective of sibling research". Nobody admit to themselves that they prefer a child. That is a taboo.
Parents could not even fulfill the ideal of the principle of equality, comments Kasten. The unique character of each child and their age-specific needs inevitably caused the parents to behave differently. "Equal treatment is nonsense and in fact not possible. In earlier times, when there were larger rows of siblings and children were treated less individually, it was different."
Most parents have a favorite child
Educational scientists have shown that the preference or disadvantage of individual siblings by their parents is not the exception, but rather the rule. This is called "favoritism" in technical terms. The 2010 study "Within-Family-Differences" by the American sociologist Karl Pillemer showed that 70 percent of mothers felt closer to one of their offspring. Only 15 percent of the children were convinced that their siblings would be treated equally. The statements of 700 now adult children and their mothers were analyzed.
A long-term study by the University of California found something similar. Fathers were also asked about this, of whom around two thirds also admitted to having a favorite child.
The soul of permanently disadvantaged siblings suffers
Fortunately, this phenomenon does not occur constantly in around 90 percent of families, but only temporarily, explains Kasten. That is why this is usually not associated with serious disadvantages.
Only rarely is a child permanently pampered and the others treated unfairly or harshly. "Children are like seismographs. They feel very precisely when they are being disadvantaged. If this is the case continuously, it not only has a negative effect on the relationship with the other siblings, but it trickles into their soul like poison, impairing their personal development and their ability to live happy lives. "
It is known from developmental psychology that siblings who feel less loved for large parts of their youth and who have to fight for recognition in the family, later behave more fearfully and shyly or else aggressively and antisocially. They often have low self-esteem and suffer from depression.
Pampered favorites don't just have advantages
Conversely, one could assume that being a favorite child is like winning the lottery. But receiving a lot of attention as a "star of the eye" or "sunshine" can also be a stumbling block.
The favored offspring usually has a high level of self-confidence, but their role can also lead to suffering. Because, according to the findings of the sociologist Pillemer, he has very high expectations. This promotes emotional dependency: the favorite child is often more difficult to differentiate itself from its parents than its sibling. And it often feels marginalized and hostile by its brothers and sisters. On top of that, it is not uncommon for him to feel guilty because the others are less in focus.
Even outside of the family, supposed advantages sometimes turn into negative ones. "They often expect preferential treatment from other people as well. If this is not given to them, they withdraw," explains Kasten. Favorite children often stand in the way of their unrealistic expectations. It then becomes more difficult to deal with conflicts.
Typical favorite child characteristics
But why is it that parents feel more drawn to one child than to another? Scientists initially see the natural urge in humans to pay a lot of attention to attractive and healthy conspecifics as a motive for this unconscious behavior. Mothers and fathers therefore often favor their prettier children.
But social and cultural components also play a role: Sick children receive more care than their healthy siblings. Mothers more often have a particularly close bond with their firstborn and see it as their one and only thing. Fathers, on the other hand, pamper their youngest child - especially if it's a girl - as a baby boy and princess. Medium "sandwich siblings", on the other hand, are rarely favorites.
Children are also often preferred if they are easy to care for and ambitious. In addition, some parents feel closer to a daughter or a son when they recognize themselves in the "Mini-Me", be it in the exterior or in the characteristics.
Others, on the other hand, are fascinated when the offspring strikes out of the way and tackles things in their life that one has always dreamed of. And still others want to protect the child more, who is less preferred by the partner - typically people do who themselves have previously experienced disadvantage in the family.
Expert: This is how parents can take countermeasures
How can parents prevent preferential treatment for one child from harming the other siblings' souls? "Understanding is the best way to get better," advises Hartmut Kasten. Parents should regularly ask themselves whether they prefer one of their offspring and then try to find out the reasons. They can take countermeasures by specifically looking after the deferred child or by engaging the other parent all the more intensively as a balancing pole.
If the children are old enough, the sensitivities of all family members should be addressed in a family conference. This makes parental behavior comprehensible and creates an atmosphere of affection and appreciation, which can also steer a sibling rivalry in a more harmonious direction.
The children should always be taught that each is loved by their parents despite their individual differences.
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