What to Do If I Have a Favorite Child?

Mighty Mommy tackles the ultimate parenting taboo: having a favorite child. Turns out, it's very common. And here's why you shouldn't feel guilty about it.

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #526
Father shouting at teen on his tablet.


Keeping a Balance Between Your Kids

Though there’s an unacceptable stigma associated with favoring one child over another, research and an honest reality check shows us that whether it’s intentional or not, parents do play favorites. Once we are aware of this, what we need to focus on is what we can do to protect the relationship with the rest of our kids.

In Psychology Today’s article, "When Parents Play Favorites," social psychologist Ilan Shrira explains the consequences of parental favoritism.

“Disfavored children experience worse outcomes across the board: more depression, greater aggressiveness, lower self-esteem, and poorer academic performance. These repercussions are far more extreme than any benefits the favored children get out of it (negative things just have a stronger impact on people than positive things). And it's not all rosy for the favored children either—their siblings often come to resent them, poisoning those relationships.”

“Many of these consequences persist long after children have grown up and moved out of the house. People don't soon forget that they were disfavored by their parents, and many people report that being disfavored as a child continues to affect their self-esteem and their relationships in adulthood.”

Shrira’s reasoning makes sense. “When it comes down to it, every child wants to feel like they're different, not clones of their siblings. The best parents can do is stay aware of any differential treatment they give and try to be as fair as possible.” 

See also:  How to Make Your Child Feel Special

This is sage advice, however, is easier said than done. Even I, a Positive Pollyanna, sometimes get caught up in life’s chaos and find it difficult to always play fair when it comes to making sure all my eight kids feel special.

In "5 Ways Parents Can Avoid Hidden Favouritism," parenting expert Alyson Schafer shares these tips that I love:

  1. Never compare—Never compare one child to another. Your intention might be to motivate the other sibling, but it is demoralizing and translates to you loving one more than the other.
  2. Never act as a judge—Don’t take sides when a child asks you whose artwork, athletic ability, hairstyle, etc. is better. If a child feels you prefer their sibling’s work or characteristics, they will feel as though they are less.
  3. Never set them up to compete—Don’t make a race out of “Let’s see who can get ready for school the fastest” as the loser of the race will feel inferior to the winning sibling.
  4. Never expect one child to set an example—Having the older sibling called out to be the role model for the youngsters can feel like a curse (Mighty Mommy knows this as the oldest of five!). Not only is this pressure for the older sibling, it sends a message that the younger kids are preferred, since the oldest is expected to uphold high standards for the rest of the family.
  5. Never take sides in a fight—When you step in to referee, the child who portrays the role of the victim will often have the favorable outcome. If it’s not a situation where danger is involved and someone might be harmed, remember that it takes two to tango, so let your kids come up with a solution on their own.

Do you play favorites? How do you navigate these murky waters in your family?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. or email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.

Are you listening to the Mighty Mommy podcast? Let me know what you're loving or what you want me to cover. Leave me a voicemail at 401-284-7575. Your message could be featured in a future podcast!


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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