I think we can all agree that having a favorite child must have some impact on the children involved, but a new study takes a bigger look — how it impacts the family as a whole.
Published in the journal Child Development the study reveals that not only is choosing a favorite (known as differential parenting) detrimental to the child who is on the negative side, but also to the entire family.
“Past studies have looked at the effects of differential parenting on the children who get more negative feedback, but our study focused on this as a dynamic operating at two levels of the family system: one that affects all children in the family as well as being specific to the child at the receiving end of the negativity,” explains Jennifer M. Jenkins, Atkinson Chair of Early Child Development and Education at the University of Toronto, who led the team of researchers.
Using data collected from 400 Canadian families, the researchers used special statistical techniques to look at the differences between dynamics in the whole family. Information was collected from mothers’ reports and observations in the home.
The study also took into consideration the impact stressful situations would have on parenting with factors including mother’s current or past life, such as single parenting, low income, past abuse, and safety in the home. They found that the mothers with more “risk factors” showed a larger range in the amount of affection they showed and how irritable and harsh they were with different children in the family. These risk factors have been associated with increased mental health problems in children, such as aggression, attention, and emotional problems.
The study concluded that, “when siblings in families were parented very differently, all children in those families showed more mental health problems.”
In an ABC News article featuring this story, they interviewed Dr. Rahil Briggs, assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y adds, “while none of this surprises me, it further supports the claim that we must support families, especially those families with young children, to help ameliorate some of these impacts of risk. The experiences of young children create a foundation upon which future development and behavior is built, and it’s really imperative that this foundation be strong.”
This study shows that not only is it important to keep in check how you’re treating your children, but creating an environment where children are pitted against each other can impact them far beyond what you may think.
Photo credit: adapted from iStockPhoto
Study source: Multilevel Mediation: Cumulative Contextual Risk, Maternal Differential Treatment, and Children’s Behavior Within Families
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