Sibling Rivalry: Truth About the Family Favorite (cont.)

Moderator: How can I avoid displaying favoritism, or at least minimize it?

Dr. Rabie-Azoory: You really have to dig into your own feelings for that. The reason why I called it favoritism -- there are a lot of people who reject that nomenclature, but it's favoritism because we fall into the pattern of favoring one child over the other. And, if you dig into your feelings you probably do like the child who is more docile, easy going and compliant. And, the more withdrawn or rebellious one is less easy to like and probably takes the disfavored position. You have to work with your feelings first and make yourself feel as much for your disfavored child as you do with the favored one. And recognize that the disfavored child's gripe and difficulty is dealing with his or her feeling of being a failure, or of holding a lesser position and status with the prime parent than the favored child. So that's the crux of their pain, and when you address that pain by giving them the respect and attention on the same level as you give to the favored child, you heal and soothe them and they come around better. So, you really have to work with yourself. It's not an easy task. But, they do come around, and when they come around, you gain more leverage because they begin to love you better. And, for the sake of loving you, they perform and behave better. It's when there's love that there is leverage developed and on that leverage the parent can start to work.

Moderator: What characteristics in children are likely to make them more favored in their parents' eyes?

Dr. Rabie-Azoory: It's a circular thing, because once they feel more loved they are more relaxed and have better sense of humor, are likable to their friends and have more friends, and their teachers like them better. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. The better they behave, the more people like them and the better they behave. They're into a mode of positive reinforcement of feelings about life and they're happy, while the other child is envious seeing that happiness, wanting to attract attention in some kind of negative way. They usually choose negative ways because the other one is behaving in positive ways, and they establish their own self identity this way from their own sibling.

Moderator: How can intelligence impact favoritism?

Dr. Rabie-Azoory: It does only insofar as the parent values intelligence. It's what we value that the children try to accommodate. Favoritism has to do with traits the child develops in themselves that please the adults. One trait may be verbal skills. If a girl, for example, has a lot of sweet talk and gentle words to use with us, that's pleasing and that's pleasant. And so, that does have to do with intelligence, but it's an encouragement in the environment also. If, on the other hand, we're pleased with a boy with a lot of mechanical abilities, that too is intelligence, but we encourage him by liking that and so he develops more and more of it. So, it's what we appreciate in intelligence. If we don't appreciate a child who is overly verbal or overly inquisitive, intrusive to our lives, asks too many questions and wants to know too much, challenges us or is mouthy is that sense, we don't like that. But, again, that's shrewdness and verbal capability, but the kind that we don't like. So, intelligence plays a role, but it could take a lot of different forms depending on how it strikes us as the parent.

Moderator: I have fraternal twins, two girls. One has definite learning disabilities and is always second to her sister. How can I help her?

Dr. Rabie-Azoory: She's the follower and is looking up to her twin and is trying to compete, but has a sense of inadequacy in certain areas.  Competition is natural, inborn and instinctual. What you can do about it is not to be pulled into, or sucked into their ploy to get you to like one better than the other. If you stand back and try to appreciate what each one has separately -- and, it's not an easy thing to do. It's not to say that you love each one in their own special way. That's just words. You have to be really careful to be honestly, inside yourself, internally impartial, to love what this one does and what that one does for their own sake. For example, if you have a creative child and you don't understand creativity -- the child wants to dye their hair different colors -- you have to try and appreciate that child's need to be creative and to express themselves creatively. Even though it makes a mess for you or upsets your lifestyle in some way, stand back and care for that child genuinely and love them for who they are. You'll find they'll tone down after that, and will comply better with the ways you'd like them to behave and it will be easier for you to make your point to them because they'll soften, due to the sense of love they'll feel from you appreciating them. The bonus is that they eventually begin to love their sibling, if you can imagine that. They detach themselves from the conflict and competition that way.

Moderator: How do you praise one child whose habits don't necessarily accord with your own?

Dr. Rabie-Azoory: Well, you've got to be a bit intellectual about it. This is what I'm trying to impart to families. To feel in charge and in control and not be pulled into this undertow because the characteristics that any child displays are not really you. You have to stand back and make an adult, intellectual assessment of yourself as a parent. And, read the book, of course, and understand that any child's personality is not who they are. This is the essence of my discovery. Their personality is geared to who they think they should be in order for the parents to love them. 

The true self is very fluid. It's not a fixed thing. Because, if you have identical twins, do they ever have the same personality? Some do have very similar personalities. But, I would submit that even there you have a dominance-submission relationship where one twin is leader and the other follower. So, the competitive aspect of their life has been worked out. Sometimes some parents jump into the competition, too. That's where one child gets too close to the prime love giver and that usually happens when they're opposite sex individuals, where the prime love giver is male and favored child is female and the secondary parent becomes jealous of the daughter, or the opposite, where mother and son get together and father feels left out. 

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