Q. I have two bonus children with whom I am very close. My husband and I also added another daughter three years ago. I try to have alone time with all of them and inevitably one will ask, “Who do you like best?” I’m always at a loss for exactly what to say. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. It’s human nature for a child to wonder if he or she is special to a parent, and it’s difficult to know what to say, especially if the question comes from a bonus child. You may have conflicted feelings — yes, you care for them, but not the same as your biological children. Or, you could be one of the fortunate ones who makes no emotional distinction between bio and bonus. Either way, good ex-etiquette suggests when you are asked you have an answer prepared.

I remember when I was very young, I asked my dad which one of us he liked best. His answer was, “I love you all the same,” but that didn’t reassure me. I didn’t necessarily want to hear that he loved me more than my sister and brother, but I did want to make sure he knew me.

Truth is, the “I love you all the same” answer may actually promote sibling rivalry. It puts children in the position of competing for their parents’ affection — and if you add bonus allegiances to the mix, that response really complicates the issue. Both biological and bonus children have concerns about favoritism. Both want confirmation that they will not be overlooked. If they hear “I love you all the same," they are bound to be skeptical.

When your child asks you the question, “Who do you love best?” try to give him or her an answer that makes him or her see that all the children in your care are loved, but that you also see them as individuals. “I love you all, but you are all so different.” Then pick out something special about that child and start talking about that. “Honey, how many 3-year-olds sing as well as you do? Sing me a song! I love to hear you sing!”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The conversation can then be guided to that rather than who you like best. As they get older you can reinforce more individual qualities, like “You are so considerate. Yesterday your brother was outside working in the yard, you noticed how hot he was all by yourself and brought him a glass of ice water. I was so proud of you. You care about people and that’s such a wonderful trait to have.”

Would I have given the same answer if she was my bonus daughter? Absolutely. When you are pointing out positive traits, it makes no difference if a child is bio or bonus. All children want to feel special.

What children are really asking when they ask, “Who do you like best?” is “Do you see me?" So, that’s the question you answer. You tell them how special you think they are — just because they are them — all by themselves, not in relation to anyone else. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. ©2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.