Crime and Punishment

I’m often asked by parents whether the punishment should fit the crime. In other words, should a child’s punishment for a misbehavior have some sort of correlation, some connection, with that misbehavior?

The simple answer is No. The punishment does not have to fit the crime. In fact, it probably should have nothing to do with the crime.

But shouldn’t the child be able to relate the consequences with his actions? Isn’t that part of what we should teach our children?

Yes and no. Yes, a child should connect the fact that his disobedience triggered his punishment. But no, in the sense that the child should see a direct relationship between the punishment and his misbehavior.

Put another way, some parents believe that if a child pulls up all the flowers in your garden, then his punishment should be something related to replacing those flowers in the garden or cleaning up the mess, etc. Sometimes, the misbehavior does lend itself to a natural consequence punishment, as in our flower pulling example.

But other times, the misbehavior doesn’t have a clear tie to natural consequences—and thus the parent must come up with a punishment. At times, our immediate response to a misbehavior—especially if the misbehavior is quite breathtaking in scope—we overcompensate and throw everything and the kitchen sink at them, especially if their outward demeanor exhibits no discernable remorse. For example, we want to ground them until they turn 18…in 13 years. We want to take all of their toys to the local thrift store right now.

However, usually that kind of over-reaction happens in the heat of the moment, immediately following the discovery of the misbehavior, when we’re upset or angry or disappointed or frustrated with our offspring. That knee-jerk reaction, while understandable, isn’t the best way to levy consequences because usually, those are the types of punishments that can’t possibly be carried out. The child can’t be grounded for more than a decade. Throwing every single toy away isn’t practical in any sense of the word.

So how do you figure out what to do? Here are some general guidelines to help you when your child needs correction.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

First, you don’t have to do something right away. With the exception of children under the age of 3, you can wait to levy consequences. For a preschooler age 3 and older, you can wait several hours before disciplining. For young elementary school age, you can wait a few days. For kids age 8 or so and older, you can wait several weeks. So when your own emotions are swirling like whirling dervish, take a moment to count to 10 or walk away to gather your thoughts before blurting out impossible-to-deliver consequences.

Second, don’t fiddle with penny-ante discipline. You know what I mean, the kind of punishment that’s designed to deter but not halt the misbehavior. Things that briefly get a child’s attention but don’t cause her to readjust her actions only prolong the problem. So don’t fool around with little consequences—such as taking away a kid’s bike or TV privileges for a single day.

Third, the consequences should never fit the crime. This basically means that you don’t worry about whether or not the punishment is “appropriate” for the misbehavior. Parents often fall into the trap of being concerned with fairness when it comes to discipline. The reality is, life isn’t fair and consequences shouldn’t be either.

Fourth, sometimes, you’ve got to make it memorable. This is reserved for really entrenched behaviors or for a time when you think the child in question needs a good wake-up call. So you lower the boom and pull the rug out from underneath him in order to recalibrate his course of action and to avoid repeats of the same behavior in the future.

One time, our oldest daughter kept “forgetting” to give the cats fresh water each day. Finally, after fooling around with penny-ante discipline, I wised up and pulled out the big guns. I took away something she absolutely loved—reading—until she could go for 30 days without “forgetting” to refill the water. Needless to say, it took only 30 days and we haven’t had a major problem with her “forgetting” her chores again (and her younger sister hasn’t “forgotten” either, it made that big an impression on them both!).

Fifth, you remember that you as the parent can do all the right things—and your child can still choose to do the wrong thing. One of my children used to “take the hit” in order to misbehave. I liken it to my in-laws late dog, Rocky, who was a huge Chesapeake Bay retriever. He wore an electric fence collar and knew the boundaries of the fence. Going through the fence enacted a rather painful jolt of electricity to his neck. But sometimes, he would become so determined to case a delivery van cruising down the street that he would pace and pace, then break through the barrier, yelping all the way, to run off after the truck. Rocky simply decided the joy of the chase was worth the pain of the electric jolt.

Our kids sometimes are much the same, choosing to take the punishment (whatever that might be) for the “joy” of misbehaving. That doesn’t mean we stop punishing them for misbehaviors; it does mean that we recognize they have the potential to keep misbehaving.

Remember, the key to discipline is consistency. Do something, but keeping what that something is doesn’t have to be the same each time.

Until next time,
Sarah

When a Boy Likes a Girl

Q: My 14-year-old son, who will be entering high school in the fall, has been talking to girls. It appears that he might even have a girlfriend. My sister said I need to talk with him about the birds and the bees, but as a single mother, I have no idea how to approach this topic. Help! I don’t want to be grandma at 40. I guess I am freaking out. How can my baby boy have a girl friend and what should I do about it?

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: First of all, this isn’t the end of the world, given that a boy is bound to express interest in a girl sometime during his teen years. And at this age, it’s not at all unusual that his “girl friend” is no more than a girl he likes to text and talk to at school.

If he’s in public school, he’s most likely already had the basic biology of sex. So that leaves talking with him about your values. But this will go better if it’s not one big talk all at once, but a series of little discussions scattered over a period of time. Also, remember that your son will respond more positively if you don’t lecture him but open up a dialogue about girls. You might want to ask a male family friend or relative to have some of these talks, as a young teen might be more comfortable discussing his feelings (and subsequent physical urges) with another male, rather than his mother.

But you can start by asking him about this girl he likes. What is it that attracts him? Ask him how he thinks a girl should be treated, etc.

In addition, having general conversations about respect and “no means no,” and what to do if he finds himself in certain situations, such as if his friends are talking dirty about a girl, or looking at unclad women, etc. Your male friend might be a good source to help your son sort out these sticky questions.

Overall, you want to have an open dialogue with your son about this and other tough topics. The more approachable—and less judgmental or preachy—you are, the more likely he will be to share what’s on his mind or heart.

Remember, that we as parents can only do the right thing—to help guide our children in the way they should go. We have to leave the actual heart changes up to God.

 

Raising Readers

Parents frequently ask me reading-related questions. Some want to know how to encourage reading in their child, while others are wrestling with what to allow their child to read, especially if that child reads above grade level.

Encouraging Reading
Here are some ways to inspire reading in our kids.

Give them books. One of the best ways to encourage kids to read is to supply them with books—lots and lots of books! Studies have shown that the more books one has in the home, the more kids will be apt to become readers. Building your child’s personal library is a great way to surround him with books. Yard sales, tag sales, thrift stores, library used book sales and websites like PaperBackSwap are inexpensive ways to do this.

Visit the library. Frequent trips to the library can also create a desire for books. Many libraries offer reading programs for children of all ages that can stimulate a love of books.

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Read to them. Reading to your kids—of all ages—has been proven to stimulate reading in them. Read books they suggest and ones you remember from your own childhood.

Read yourself. When kids see parents reading, it sends a strong message that reading is something you do all your life. So put down that smartphone and pick up a book (yes, ebooks count).

Appropriate Reading Selections
My two girls (10 and 12) both read above grade level, so this is a topic that my husband and I have discussed much in our home. The truth of the matter is that all children want to read about kids who are just a little bit older than they are–that’s part of the growing up process. Books can provide a safe environment for kids to experience things that will soon be happening—or could happen—to them. But on the other hand, sometimes, we as parents are so happy to have our children interested in reading, that we neglect to have a care with what they are reading. The content of books is just as important as the reading itself—probably even more so. Many times, we fear that if we restrict access to certain books (for now or forever), our kids will ditch the reading entirely.Here are some suggestions for how to figure out if a book is good for your children.

Seek outside assistance. There are numerous websites that rate children’s and YA (young adult), such as https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews and http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/protecting-your-family/book-reviews-for-parents/book-reviews-for-parents). Talking with other parents who share your values about book titles

Read the book first yourself. Whether it’s the flip-and-pause method or reading the entire book, looking at a book can help you decide whether it’s appropriate material or not.

Ask a librarian. Our local resource librarians are gems in helping us figure out if a book is on the right age level for our kids, as well as pointing out similar books if they like a certain author, etc. School librarians can be helpful as well.

Start a book club with your child. If there’s a book that your child wants to read but you’re unsure about the subject matter, read the book together and talk about it. This might help alleviate your concerns about certain book content and give you a platform to hear what your child thinks about the topics in the book. When I recently answered a question about a 10-year-old girl reading books “too old” for her in an online forum, another reader chimed in with the following response: “This is really a hot topic because my son is such a speedy reader and devours books he brings home from the library. My husband and I have been discussing this for some time now, as our 8-year-old son is reading above grade level and while he is able to read “older” books, I don’t always think the content is appropriate. My son and I both recently read Wonder, which he read it first and told me that I would find some “violence” in there. I didn’t think there was much, but it gave me an opportunity to bring up some points with him and we discussed some of the book (he recognized what the other kids were doing was wrong and so forth).”

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When the Companion’s Invisible

Q: My 4-year-old daughter has an imaginary friend called Buster. She talks to Buster, plays with Buster, insists that Buster sit at the table with her, etc. Sometimes, she expects me to talk to Buster too. I’m not sure having an invisible friend is such a good idea. What should I do about Buster?

A: When my oldest was around 4, she had an imaginary friend who accompanied her everywhere—to the park, outside, the dinner table, etc. She talked about this friend for so long, her younger sister (around 2) started talking to her sister’s imaginary friend too. Those were some interesting times in our household, that’s for sure!

I viewed the imaginary friend as a tangible outcome of a vivid imagination, something that we should treasure in our children. Sure, it’s silly and funny and annoying at times, but imaginary friends serve a couple of important purposes for our kids. First, it gives them an outlet for their creative imaginations. Second, it provides them with a safe place to explore their own feelings. For example, sometimes, my daughter’s imaginary friend would do something bad. She would talk about how that made her imaginary friend feel and work through those feelings in a safe place.

As to how parents should react to such a “friend,” here are some tips.

  • Don’t overreact. Sure, it can be trying to have your child always talking about someone who isn’t real, but it’s also usually only a sign of a child’s active imagination, not something seriously wrong with the child.
  • Give the responsibility to the child. This means if the child wants the imaginary friend to sit at the dinner table, that’s fine. However, the child should be responsible for his “guest’s” behavior. In other words, no spilling milk deliberately and blaming it on the imaginary friend. The child is completely accountable for the actions of the imaginary friend.
  • Don’t overindulge, either. I made it a practice to only say “hello” or “goodbye” to my daughter’s imaginary friend. I would say that it was her friend, not mine, so the bulk of the discussion should be between the child and the imaginary friend, not the parent and the imaginary friend. This keeps the play with the child, where it belongs.

Above all, enjoy the silliness that imaginary friends can be for our children. There’s something rather sweet and innocent about a little kid talking to someone who isn’t there. As adults, we’re sometimes overly grounded in reality that we forget the magic that children see and feel and view all around them. For all too short a time, they can touch and experience the wonder of imaginary friends. Reality will intrude as they grow up, so don’t rush them through the magic of this part of childhood too soon.

Parenting According to Vicki Hoefle, Part Two

I recently spoke with Vicki Hoefle, professional parent educator, author of Duct Tape Parenting, and national speaker, about parenting. Her new book, The Straight Talk on Parenting; A No-Nonsense Approach on How to Grow a Grown-Up is available now. Catch up on the first part of our conversation here.VHoefle-1

What are some of the most common parenting missteps moms and dads make?

Vicki: Doing too much for their kids and removing obstacles from the children’s lives.

Doing too much for our kids sends the message that we don’t believe they are capable of navigating their own lives. A child who doesn’t believe in himself and who does not think he is capable will behave in ways that support this belief. As the child grows and matures, this belief becomes anchored and they see themselves as limited in their capacity to successfully navigate their adult lives. Both children and adults become dependent on others to do for them what they could do for themselves. If you have spent your entire childhood being convinced that you aren’t capable of taking care of yourself or your responsibilities, it is going to influence how you see yourself as an adult.

Removing obstacles from our children’s lives sends the message that we have little faith in their ability to recover from life’s ups and down, including an embarrassing moment, a rejection or a lousy grade on a test. This lack of faith is carried into adulthood and can severely limit the persons desire to try new things, take healthy risks or their ability to rebound after experiencing a disappointment. In the worse-case scenario, the adult experiences isolation, depression, and other emotional and mental challenges.

Why is instilling character so important for a child’s growth?

Vicki: When I consider the character traits that helped me establish a satisfying and fulfilling life as an adult, I can think of several, but self-control or self-regulation is right there at the top. Self-control is a character trait that takes years to develop.

If we helped our kids develop these character traits while they were young, two things would happen. The first is that you would see children begin to demonstrate them on a regular basis. For example, your four-year-old hits his younger brother when he knocks over the fort. Three years later, if the parent is helping the child develop self-discipline (instead of punishing the child for hitting), it is likely that this child will have developed the self-control necessary to walk away or use some other acceptable and effective strategy. It’s a win-win for everyone.

The second thing that would happen is that the character trait that was introduced into the life of the child would grow strong with each year and eventually, you would have an adult who had mastered the art of self-control, self-regulation, and their life would reflect this. If, however, a child is not given the chance to develop these character traits, it is unlikely that he will display them in his adult life.

What do you hope parents take away from The Straight Talk on Parenting?

Vicki: My motto for more than 20 years has been this: I know I have been a success when parents no longer look to me for answers. I truly believe that parents are the true experts in their children’s lives and when introduced to a simple method for uncovering causes of misbehavior with solutions that are designed to bring out lasting change and support emotional health in kids for a lifetime, they can do the job without all the experts piping in with their wisdom. There is no magical mystery to raising children—a few straightforward ideas are enough to raise respectful, responsible, and resilient human beings. I want parents to know that if they practice a simple method for just a few weeks, they can solve any problem that comes up in daily life with their kids. That would be a glorious day indeed. Empower the parents, empower the child.Straight Talk on Parenting FINAL

A Rude Awakening

Q: Our four-year-old son has started to be disrespectful to other adults in front of me. For example, he snatched something from my friend’s hand that he wanted. When I made him apologize, he first snarled, “I’m not sorry.”

I am appalled, but I’m not sure exactly how to handle the discipline—where, when and what should I do?

Image courtesy of ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: From one parent to another, thanks for noticing your child’s rudeness to other adults. So many times, we as parents offer excuses for our children’s bad behavior toward other grownups (“She didn’t have a nap today,” “He’s mad that he missed soccer practice to come here,” etc.). So it’s great that you not only notice his rudeness but want to correct it.

Now the best way to accomplish that is to make his rudeness his responsibility. In other words, he needs to want to change his behavior more than continue it.

The next time he’s rude to an adult, correct him in a firm yet gentle tone. You don’t have to yell at him to make an impression. Keep it short and sweet, such as: “No snatching items from adults. Tell Mrs. X you’re sorry for grabbing.” Then maintain eye contact until he does so. Prod him once to apologize, but if he still refuses, don’t cajole or wheedle with him to comply. You simply smile at the adult and apologize on his behalf.

Then take him immediately home if possible. Confine him to his room for the rest of the day with all his favorite toys or books or games removed. Move up his bedtime to immediately after an early supper. At this age, curtailing his freedom is a great way to compel him to own his rudeness.

If you can’t leave right away, curtail his movements right then if possible, such as requiring him to stay by your side and not play with the other children. If that isn’t possible because of the situation, then leave as soon as you can and do the confined outlined above when you get home, reminding him of his rudeness (“You were rude to Mrs. X when you snatched the toy from her hand.”).

Above all, avoid the temptation to lecture. Kids this age don’t need to know why it’s rude to snatch things from adults or to interrupt conversations. They just need to know it IS unacceptable behavior. The why won’t make them any more likely to obey, so save your breath.

Also work on role playing with him on how to relate to adults. Work through questions such as

If an adult has something he wants, how does he ask for it?

How should he address an adult who speaks to him?

What should he do if an adult does something he doesn’t like?

Incorporate that practice into your everyday interactions with him. Let him pretend to be the adult and you’re the child. Then reverse roles so he can practice. Reinforcing the proper behavior helps him to visualize how he should react the next time he’s confronted with a similar situation.

Parenting According to Vicki Hoefle, Part One

I recently spoke with Vicki Hoefle, professional parent educator, author of Duct Tape Parenting, and national speaker, about parenting. Her new book, The Straight Talk on Parenting; A No-Nonsense Approach on How to Grow a Grown-Up is available now.

VHoefle-1What surprised you the most in raising your own six kids?

Vicki: How much I didn’t know and how often I let personal prestige (what others thought of me as a mother) guide my parenting decisions.

For the most part, American parents 50 or 60 years ago knew they weren’t raising kids—they were raising adults. What happened to change that mindset in today’s parents?

Vicki: In the not-so-distant past, parents understood that their future depended on children who were ready to leave home and start working their own plot of land. The sooner their kids were prepared, the sooner they could strike out on their own.

Think about it. Parents spent time teaching their kids how to make bread, wash clothes by hand, repair socks, cut and stack wood for winter, repair roofs, till soil and care for livestock. No parent back then was thinking that their 5-year-old or 9-year-old was going to make it big in the NBA or be the next senator. They were preparing them for a life that would mimic their own. Simple.

Fast forward a few dozen years. The choice is still simple: attend college in order to secure a good job to support yourself and your family, or enter the workforce right out of high school to support yourself and your family. Again, no one was thinking that their child would be the next superstar or millionaire.

And then Baby Einstein came along, and parents were fed the idea that if they played Mozart while the child was in utero, hung the right mobiles, read to the child, and taught the child his numbers, letters and colors all before the age of 3, he would have a better chance of getting into a great college, hence securing his future. So, we all went along with the story and began spending hours and hours with our kids “preparing” them for the future. At some point, this idea morphed into the idea that if a parent could stack the deck for their child educationally, why not in other areas? What if I invested my time and resourced into preparing my kid to be the best possible soccer player so they could get a million dollar contract, etc. Suddenly, we stopped helping our kids learn real life skills and started focusing on the elite career they might have.

Today almost every parent I speak with thinks that their child is exceptional, the special one—and so they spend their time preparing the child for a career that will, in all likelihood, never arrive. That is why they send a 5-year-old to a summer-long soccer camp or a 9-year-old to a science camp at MIT.

Add to this the technological revolution and things intensified. Parents are sharing their children’s accomplishments with the world so there is a lot of comparing going on. Once your personal prestige is activated, it’s easy to see why parents are focusing their attention on the here and now and not on the future.

What prompted you to write this book?

Vicki: I know as a mother who has raised kids, that paying too much attention to toddlerhood can derail our attempts at raising emotionally healthy, high functioning adults. Finding that sweet spot of living with a toddler while raising an adult became a passion of mine and I wanted to share what I learned with parents everywhere.Straight Talk on Parenting FINAL

Stop by next Tuesday, April 28, to read what Vicki thinks are some of the most common parenting missteps we make today and why character is so important to a child’s growth.

Embrace the ‘Meanie’ Label

Q: My six-year-old son has started back-talking, mostly calling me a “meanie” when I tell him to do something he doesn’t like, such as chores, homework, no snack right now, etc. What’s frustrating is that his three-year-old sister now copies him when she’s upset with something I, my wife or her brothers do.

What can we do to get rid of this disrespect? I’ve repeatedly told him that it’s rude and he’s lost privileges for saying that. As for his sister, I tell her firmly no and that it’s not respectful. I do sometimes point out to her brother that he has taught her to be not respectful, which he, naturally, denies!

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: This is probably going to shock you, but I think you’re over-reacting about the “meanie” comments, thus making a mountain out of a molehill. Since you didn’t mention that your son disobeyed the instruction given, I’m going to assume that he’s obedient but grumbly about it.

Your beef is one that plagues many parents today but that didn’t phase your grandparents’ generation. Parents of the 1950s and earlier knew to expect a certain amount of grumbling from their children in the form of eye rolls, “you meanie” comments, and other such nonsense. As long as the child in question did as he was told, those parents rightly ignored such comments as part of the “junk” that comes from raising an immature person to adulthood.

What’s happened is that today’s parents are hyper-focused on managing all aspects of a child’s life, from his actions to his reactions. Sometimes that’s appropriate, in that a child needs correcting if he’s having a temper tantrum, for example. But most of the time, we can safely ignore the shrugs, sighs and expressions of disappointment that accompany obedience to the task at hand.

Why this frustrates us today can be boiled down to the simple fact that we want our children to understand the whys behind our edicts. In short, we want our kids to say something like this: “Gee, Dad, of course it’s time to do my homework. Thanks for reminding me” or “Now that you’ve explained why the bathroom needs cleaning, I’ll get right on that job, Mom.”

That’s not going to happen until the child is grown up and probably has kids of his own. Then, and only then, will he understand why you did and said the things you did and said when he was a child.

Many parents make this mistake in thinking that obedience has to be both inward and outward all of the time. Yes, we’re concerned about our children’s hearts, but we have to remember that we’re the same way about chores we don’t particularly like to do, only we’re adults, so we’ve learned to hide those grumbles inside. Kids haven’t–they let their grumbles show on their face (eye rolls, sighs, etc.) and words (calling a parent a “meanie” really isn’t disrespectful; calling a parent a four-letter word is).

As for your situation in particular, here’s what you can do. Tell your son that you are no longer going to punish him when he calls you a meanie (or other similar words). If he wishes to do so, he may shout it or sing it or whisper it as much as he likes in the downstairs powder room (or guest room). That’s his special “meanie” room. That gives the child the freedom to say those words, but also parameters in which to do so. You can send your daughter to that room as well if she wishes to have her own “meanie” session.

Then stop worrying about his expressions when told to do or not to do something–instead, correct him when he doesn’t do the thing requested or does the forbidden thing. You should certainly have conversations at other times (not in the midst of a “meanie” episode) about what’s going on in his heart when he gets upset about directives.

Above all, remember that we shouldn’t expect a perfect response from our kids all of the time. Wear that “meanie” label proudly—it generally means you’re doing a good job being a parent.

Let’s be Honest: We Have Favorites March 2015 Practical Parenting

Who’s your favorite among your children? Is it the one most like you? Or the oldest? The youngest with her sunny smile or the serious middle child? Most parents will not point to one child or another as their favorite, but if you ask their children, you can bet that one of them will wear the favorite label.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all play the favorites game. We have our favorite restaurants, and our favorite sports teams. We have our favorite TV show and our favorite app. We live our lives with what we favor the most, so why do we think when we’re parents we magically will not have favorites?

There’s nothing wrong with having favorites most of the time—after all, it’s okay that your favorite baseball team is the Nationals but your father’s a Cardinal fan. Where it gets tricky is when we bring that favoritism into our families and kids become labeled with being the favored one—or the undesired one(s). And as we all know, parental favoritism wrecks families and creates bad blood between siblings that can take a lifetime to heal.

While our natural tendency might be to have a favorite child (whether it’s conscious or unconscious), here are 5 ways parents can overcome that and minimize favoritism in their home.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Admit the favoritism. Sometimes, simply acknowledging that we are treating one child with favor over another can help us not continue that favoritism long term. We all compare our kids—it’s in our human nature and it’s extremely hard to be completely unbiased toward our offspring. Recognizing our own frailty when it comes to picking favorites can help us be on guard against that inclination.

Admit the prejudice. We like what we like, and sometimes that “liking” is based on culture or societal values that are so ingrained in our very fabric, we miss seeing it. For example, numerous cultures place high value on the firstborn male child. Some families show preference for the youngest. Some fathers prefer sons, while some mothers prefer daughters. Narcissism plays a key role in preferences by parents, as we often smile upon the kid who is most like us, either in appearance, manner or actions. By admitting that we have certain prejudices, we can work to overcome those in our dealings with our kids.

Admit the comparison. As parents, we often slip into comparing one child with a sibling almost without thinking about it. We compare our kids to one another by commenting on behavior, schoolwork, chores, abilities, sports, talents, etc. One way to break that habit is to think in terms of the child in front of you. For example, if one kid brings home an A on a test, we focus exclusively on that child and not on the fact that his older sister brought home three A’s this week. Modifying our language to weed out comparisons can be difficult but well worth the effort.

Admit the differences. Avoid lumping all the kids together as one. Instead, consider carefully what makes each unique and yet connected. Sports teams are united by the game, but often very diverse as to temperaments, abilities and appearances. Families are much the same way. Thinking more about the differences between our kids will help us not choose favorites so easily.

One way to do this is to think about what we love about each child as an individual. When you’re interacting with each child, pay attention to what makes that child tick, what makes that child smile, and what makes that child laugh. That will help us relate to our children as individuals within the family and also help us temper our frustrations at misbehavior with love and compassion.

Admit our reactions. Our facial expressions and body language, as well as our words, can convey whether or not we are pleased or disappointed. We should be very careful not to fall into the habit of always grimacing or sighing when a particular child does something but not reacting in that way when his sibling does a similar thing. Being aware of our own nonverbal cues can be extremely helpful in rooting out favoritism.

These simple ways can help us alleviate most of the favoritism in our homes and hearts.