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You can't treat your kids equally, only equitably


Q: I'm finding I have a tendency to treat my 1-year-old son better than his 9-year-old brother. My own mother has always shown favoritism between me and my siblings. I want to treat both of mine equally. Has anyone else experienced this?

-- Janet Starling, Dallas, Texas

A: It's not possible to treat children equally, say parents who have dealt with this. The best you can do is strive to love both children to the fullest and develop relationships that meet their individual needs.

Tips from parents and experts include talking with the children about how they feel, watching for signs of distress and spending time alone with each child.

"There is a big difference in the emotional needs of a 9-year-old and a 1-year-old," says Erica Scotto, a mother of four from Baltimore.

Research at Pennsylvania State University supports this parent's observation. In fact, children's individual personalities probably have more to do with how parents respond to them than anything else, says Judy Dunn, a professor of human development at Penn State.

"It's a very common to find big differences in how you are with your different children," says Dr. Dunn, author of the new book "From One Child to Two" (Fawcett Columbine, $10). "This is not something to feel guilty about. It has a lot to do with the children's different personalities, and you're not responsible for that."

Not only is it not possible to relate to children in exactly the same way, there are many times when they need to be treated differently.

"You have different expectations of a 9-year-old," Dr. Dunn says. "He needs to be more responsible. You're going to have more disagreements with a 9-year-old, which is inevitable with a child who's growing up."

The different stages children go through may also contribute to this mother's feelings about the unequal treatment. Several readers pointed out that the mother should be aware of the cuteness edge that the 1-year-old currently holds.

"A 1-year-old is at a very easy stage," says Whitney Parry, a mother from Fredericksburg, Va. "When he gets to the terrible 2s, things will probably even out. She may even find opportunities to praise the 9-year-old's self-restraint when the younger one gets to the stage where he's bouncing off the walls."

In the meantime, "It's very important to be sensitive to the individual needs of each child," Dr. Dunn says.

Or, as parent Jim Elder of Victoria, B.C., puts it, be most concerned about having a positive relationship with each child.

Start by determining if the older child feels that the younger gets more attention and whether that's causing distress, Dr. Dunn says.

Do this by talking with him about it or by observing whether his behavior has become more aggressive or contrary since the baby arrived. Withdrawal or general misery would also signal problems.

Create one-on-one times to spend with each child. This is particularly important for the boy while the baby requires so much custodial care.


Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

* Broken glass:

"My 10-year-old daughter wears glasses, and my 5-year-old daughter keeps breaking her sister's glasses," says S.H. of Chesapeake, Va. "I discipline her, get them fixed, and every couple of weeks, she breaks them again. I am at my wit's end. What can I do?"

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