Tag Archives: Arrogance

Kids Lose When Parents Play Favorites

Favoritism exists throughout the animal kingdom.  Most species nurture the strongest of their offspring, which have the most promise of propagating their genetics into the future.  The wussy and wimpy ones, on the other hand, usually get eaten.  So when it comes to humans, it makes sense biologically that parents play favorites amongst their children.

Parents are drawn to kids who are more pleasant and affectionate, and less aggressive and deviant. For example, let’s say you have twin babies. One screams 24/7 and the other coos sweetly in your arms.  Well guess what? The screaming one is toast.

Parents also tend to feel closer to children of the same gender and personality type, and favor their biological kids over stepchildren.  In addition, parents usually have a soft spot for their first- and lastborn (at some point, the first- and lastborn have their parents all to themselves).  Generally speaking, it’s the firstborns who get all the perks due to the emotional and physical investment that goes into having the first baby.

Favoritism manifests itself in how much time, affection, privilege, or discipline you give one child compared to another.  The problem is that kids who are blatantly disfavored by their parents experience terrible outcomes across the board: more depression, greater aggressiveness, lower self-esteem, and poorer academic performance.  On the opposite side of the coin, children who are favored tend to develop a sense of arrogance and entitlement, which makes them terribly disliked by their siblings and totally unprepared for the real world.

So, how can a parent avoid showing favoritism?

1. When one kid is looking for a leg up, pick up everybody’s leg.

The irony is that every kid wants to feel like they’re different and special in their own way.  Your job is to do that without making them compete with each other.  When one of your kids asks, “Am I the best swimmer in the family?,” respond by saying, “I think you’re the best swimmer, and George is the best baseball player, and Mary is the best painter,” etc.  That way, each of your children has the mentality that he or she is the best, but so are their siblings.  There’s no favoritism shown because everybody’s the best at something.  Try to divvy out your love and affection equally, but continue highlighting each child’s uniqueness.

2. It’s not personal – it’s situational.

  • If you have a new baby at home, explain to your older child, “Your brother is a newborn. He can’t roll over or even scratch his butt – he can’t do anything.  So for a while, it’s going to look like we’re paying more attention to him, but you can scratch your butt and he can’t.”  Your older child will think this is hilarious, and they’ll get the picture (and wait for the day that their brother’s hand reaches behind his back…)
  • If one of your children is physically ill or disabled, inevitably there is going to be unequal treatment.  Make it clear to your other kids that you are not choosing the disabled child over them, but that their sibling’s condition simply requires more attention.  Reassure your other kids that it’s not personal – it’s just situational.

Comparing Yourself to Others

A talk show host I know used to respond to callers who asked him how he was doing by saying, “Better than some, not as good as others.”   I thought that was wonderful.  That’s the truth around the world: we assess where we’re at by comparing ourselves to others.  But the problem we each have is that we’re always comparing apples and oranges.  For example, you can’t compare yourself to someone just because he or she is the same age since his or her journey from zero to this point has been very different from yours.

As a general rule, comparing yourself to others is a bad idea – a seriously bad idea.  It makes you either arrogant or unhappy.  Those are your only options.  Of course, there’s the exception that you’re comparing yourself to someone else in the hope of emulating whatever traits you’re inspired by, but that’s not typical.  What’s more typical is envy.  

I remember I had one person in therapy on and off for about a decade.  She was extremely intelligent, but spent much of her life acting like a total ding-a-ling.  One evening session, she was in a bad mood and started pacing in my office.  She kept looking at my diplomas, licenses, and other stuff I’d hung on my wall to impress people and make them know I was actually “for real.”  Then she stopped and said, “I am the same damn age as you and look at all these.  I will never catch up to you!”

I looked at her and replied, “Catch up to me?  You’re not on the same path.  You’re on an entirely different path and yours started from a deep hole” (don’t even ask me about her childhood; that was the deep hole).  I said, “I didn’t start from a very deep hole, and I didn’t have to climb out.  So, comparing us makes no sense.”

“But still -”  

“There is no ‘but still,’” I said.  “We each have our own path in life – our own, unique life path.  You have to respect yours, and I have to respect mine.  I cannot, nor can you, judge your own life path based on where somebody else is at any particular moment.  A path is a long line.  A moment is a dot.  You can’t compare long lines to dots.” 

So, how do you get through envious or jealous moments? 

Be gracious.  You’ve heard me say a zillion and 3/4 times on this program the best way to handle agitated feelings about people is to be nice to them.  They may deserve it, they may not, but it’s better for your heart and intestines that you do.

Also, keep in mind externals are not a very good measure of worth.  I’m more interested in people who have a really deep, good heart than a fancy car, jewelry or a house.  That’s what I value.  If you’re going to be envious at all, envy somebody for his or her inner beauty.

Lastly, remember that while you’re being envious of somebody, someone else is probably looking at you and having that same fit of envy.  Everybody’s got some natural talents, abilities and gifts, and there’s always going to be somebody saying, “Gee, I wish I had it like she/he does…” 

And that’s the irony of the whole thing.