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          When Parents Play Favorites

          January 24, 2007

          Do you openly show favoritism to one of your children? Is your bond stronger with a certain child than another? Certainly, the less-favored child can suffer from your alliances, but you may be surprised to learn that playing favorites has a negative affect on all children in the home, including the “star” child.

          When parents focus more love and attention on one child, all the children begin to feel that their parents’ behavior is unfair and unpredictable, which creates resentment and uncertainty. It also affects sibling relationships, leading to higher levels of anger and aggressiveness. The less-favored child carries around feelings of not being good enough, wondering, “What am I doing wrong?” This leads to low self-esteem, anger and acting out for attention, even negative attention. The favored child will begin to feel his/her sibling’s resentment, and may even begin to hate being treated as the special child.

          Dr. Phil cautions parents who play favorites and show preferential treatment to one child over another. He speaks with his guest, Kim, who says she can’t help but feel a stronger bond with her middle child because she’s still in love with his father, and still mourning their divorce. Dr. Phil tells her that what she’s doing is toxic to all her kids. The oldest, who’s 14, is still looking for that “soft place to fall” and has felt neglected throughout his childhood. The youngest, who’s less than 2 years old, spends so much time with Kim’s friends, he’s begun calling them Mama and Daddy.

          Dr. Phil warns Kim that being so dependent on her middle child can immobilize his development as well. “That’s not healthy for you or for him because it stops his independence; it stops his development as a child because he was born with a job,” Dr. Phil tells her. “His job is to make you feel better over the loss that you’ve suffered. So the child was born with a job — He’s got to be there. He’s got to entertain you. He’s got to comfort you. He’s got to nurture you — This is not healthy. Can you love a child too much? No. But can you love them in the wrong way? Can you use them in ways that aren’t in their best interest in the name of that love? The answer is absolutely yes. And I hate to see him pay that price.”

          He tells Kim, “Your job is a mother of three. Are you a single mother of three? Yes. Is that hard? Yes. Does that put demands on you? Yes. Are you emotionally tired? Yes. But that doesn’t change your job.”

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