HomeHealth & BehaviorSocial Skills

Ask the Experts

How Do I Parent Equitably?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


I have both a first-grader and a third-grader, and besides being of different genders, they are also different in how they are doing in school. My first-grader is doing wonderfully and has gotten many compliments; however, my third-grade daughter has been struggling.


I like to award the kids when they come home with good grades, but this is getting difficult due to my daughter. She is working really hard, but still struggles and has had to stay behind to study when we go out to places. It's getting hard to show my son that he is doing a good job while my daughter is looking on. I don't want to stop showing him that I am proud, but I don't want my daughter to feel that I feel any less for her.


Parenting equitably is often a struggle, and it is especially difficult when one child has learning disabilities, or special medical or behavioral requirements.

Children's academic needs differ from child to child, based on the problem and the temperament of the child. One child can work a few extra minutes on a subject to keep up, while another needs specialized tutoring. Spending more time on homework is not effective if it is not geared to address your daughter's deficits.

Make sure your expectations are reasonable, obtainable and age-appropriate. Her teacher may be able to help you strategize a realistic homework plan that will enhance her learning and not overwhelm or discourage her.

Your statement that your daughter "has had to stay behind to study when we go out to places" reinforces the very thing you want to avoid - showing favoritism toward your son. Children should not miss family outings because they have difficulties in school. Feeling left out or left behind is not conducive to learning and stresses the sibling relationship.

You and your children could work on a structured after-school schedule, which allows each child a chance to organize a schedule based on the grade-level demands. Work on balancing play, work and family time.

Give each of your children additional scheduled "special time" alone with you. Try to do this with each child once a month and let each one pick an activity to do with you. This gives you the opportunity to find out how each of them is doing and allows you time to reinforce their strengths as well as hear their concerns.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

" We have 3 in school; 4th grader, freshman, and a senior. When report cards are issued, we automatically know who did well and who didn't do so well ... the ones who did well will put the report on the fridge --displayed proudly. If it was not so good we can tell right away whose 'holding back'. Fortunately they are all doing well. I do have a similar problem with the youngest working harder to learn, he gets frustrated when the other two don't seem to ever 'study' or have 'homework'. He does struggle with his studies. I tell him when he's in high school he may have a 'light load', too. "
"I get around the same problem in my house (where my older child is classified as LD and my middle one isn't) by not comparing their report cards to each other but to the previous report card. I will take the current report card and the previous one and mark on the current card using arrows saying if the grade went up, down, or stayed the same. The middle one's card might look 'better' at first glance because of the grades but it's easier for my older one to see that her card reflects the improvements she had made over the marking period, and is 'better' from that stand-point. This way, everyone has a good report card and there is no competition between siblings."