The feeling of rejection or non-acceptance is an inherent capacity for children and adults alike. Children younger than even six years of age can understand when they are not treated the same as their peers. While this is commonplace in school and sports, it can also be found within the family unit, ‘playing favorites’ so to speak. Children and teens have a keen sense of how their siblings and cousins are treated compared to how they themselves are treated. A grandparent might favor a cousin or an aunt may take a special interest in only one of her nieces. Whatever combination it is, there are ways to cope with it. This article looks at different ways to work through these types of situations while focusing on key age groups.
Children 6 to 10 Years of Age
Younger, elementary age children certainly notice when they are treated differently from their cousins and siblings. If their grandparents buy more gifts for their cousins or their uncle makes time to hang out with their sibling and no one else, they can easily sense that pattern. It’s important to not sweep the issue under the rug. If you notice it, chances are you children notice it, too. If and when your children bring the topic up you should listen to everything they have to say. Don’t simply tell them they’re wrong and that everyone in the family loves them all equally. Listen to their feelings and concerns, truly validate what they are saying. Once they are done expressing their feelings, you should gently reassure them that whichever family member they feel is playing favorites loves them very much and that each person shows love and feels loved in different ways.
Ages 11 to 14 Years of Age
Give words of affirmation. Your child of course wants to be loved by other family members, but kind words from mom and dad can go a long way. Tell them that love can be shown in many different ways. By telling them this you can help shield them from that hurt that comes with favoritism in gift giving at the holidays or more time spent with other cousins and siblings.
As this age is a very delicate time, be sure to remind your pre-teens that they can be whoever they want to be. Give them support for the people they are becoming and let them know that you love them always. Let them know that they do not need to become just like their siblings or cousins to earn love from family members. Never let them forget that they are loved just as they are even if other family members have an odd way of showing it.
Teens 15 to 18 Years of Age
If you’re just now broaching this topic with your teenagers, they have probably been coping with favoritism in the family for most of their life. They have learned a way to patch up the hurt feelings, either by trying to ignore them or by shutting out the family members that are not accepting of them. However, it’s never too late to help your child through these types of situations. Whatever your teens might say, the hurt still exists.
Ask your teen to reach out to the family member who is snubbing them. By your child taking interest in the other family members it will show them that they are mature and can forgive their non-acceptance or favoritism of other family members. If your teenagers are not interested in doing this, that is absolutely okay. You should talk to them about how they feel, what their frustrations are, and give them encouragement. Remind them that they are becoming capable young adults and that you will always be proud of them.
Knowing how to talk to your children about favoritism in the family can leave you feeling a little helpless. You cannot control other people’s actions no matter how much you try. Just remember to love your children and talk to them through the difficult times.