Every Kid Loses When Parents Play Favorites

Mom Moment 8

Everyone knows that you’re not supposed to have a favorite child. Let’s be honest -- there are days when you can’t help but like one of your kids more than their siblings. I’m all of a sudden reminded of the road trip we took a few years ago when our youngest wasn’t quite 2. Eight hours is a long time to scream in the backseat, and I’m pretty sure we liked her big sister better that day.

That’s a fair and natural part of parenting. Other times it will occur when one child needs more attention, like when you have a newborn in the house, or a child has special needs. But what happens when these favoritisms turn into the rule rather than being circumstantial and short-lived?

Obviously, the disfavored child will have issues. They may suffer feelings of inadequacy, act out in school to get attention, and have problems with social relationships. Now, new studies show that extreme favoritism also is detrimental to the family as a whole -- even to the favored child.

Lead author on the study Jenny Jenkins says that playing favorites with your kids can cause lasting damage to their relationships with their brothers and sisters, which outweighs any positive effect of getting more parental attention in childhood. She observed the behavior of 400 Canadian families over four years to study family dynamics when favoritism is employed, rather than just examining the individual relationships between parent and child.

She was surprised to discover an association between differential parenting and mental health outcomes for children in families. It makes sense when you think about it. The disfavored children will feel resentment toward the favorite, and the favorite may feel guilt over the partiality. These things are bound to damage sibling relationships in the long run.

The other thing that might be causing the “kids of favoritism” to have more mental health issues than their peers is the lack of consistency from the parents. How are kids supposed to make sense of a world when parents treat them with drastically different attitudes?

ABC Senior Medical Contributor Jennifer Ashton points out that this is not about tailoring your parenting to suit the needs of each individual child. The correlation only occurred in dramatic examples of favoritism, where parents were negative to one child while being positive to another.

So what can we do about it? Try to treat our kids fairly. Take notice if we’re harder on one or easier on another, and ask ourselves why. Be mindful and aware and consistent. And if all else fails -- start a therapy jar.

Do you ever play favorites with your kids?


Image via Life Mental Health/Flickr

behavior, discipline, family, girls, boys, in the news, kid activities, sibling rilvary, tweens

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tuffy... tuffymama

I can tell you that playing favorites is really destructive. My mother did it. Without going into personally identifying details, I can tell you she persisted in her behavior and it got even worse after my brother and I were grown, and ultimately, she has no relationship with me or my family.



My kids are almost sixteen years apart, so I've joked that I get to have two favorite sons. I call ODS "Original Junior." LO is "Second Junior." I really wanted my kids closer together in age for the reasons that parents typically do, but I've learned to reap the rewards of having totally separate relationships with the two of them. Occasionally, I feel glad I was never faced with making sure I never have a favorite. They are each challenging and precious in their own ways, and vastly different from each other.

DebaLa DebaLa

Thank you for this!

Pinkmani Pinkmani

I was my mom's favorite because I listened to what she said. The only thing that bothered her was my blunt statements and sarcasm but she eventually accepted it as who I am.


My brother purposely did things to piss her off. (I.e. Pick her up and run around the house, "forget" to do this chores, continuously call her name and when she finally answers he says, "hi"...)

miche... micheledo

My siblings all say I am the favorite and it is very upsetting to me. Honestly, Igot into trouble a lot less then they did. But I also did what my parents wanted and dinn't lie, argue, disobey as much. Not getting into trouble is NOT being a favorite. And I got into trouble plenty, even taking the blame for my siblings because I hated it when they said I was the favorite.

TKsMo... TKsMommie

The older of my two brothers was the favorite.  It never bothered us all that much we just gave him a ton of crap.  I remember shortly after my son was born we were all messing around (he was in high school) and I made a crack about him being the favorite, my mom came in the room and said we were wrong.  My sister was her favorite because her allergies got us central heat and air!  The last time I talked to my mom before she died we were talking about that and she told me the reasons we were each her favorite and it was awesome.  Each of us filled a different role.  I was her library buddy, my sister always supplied art work (and the whole air thing, LOL)  my brother was her go with the flow run around outside do his own thing kid, and my youngest brother was her baby.  


It holds true with my kids too.  I can do just about anything with my daughter, she is my little clone, and I KNOW she will get accused of being my favorite because we are so much alike.  BUT she does not love all the geeky stuff like I and her brother do.  She will tolerate it but she doesn't get all into it and debate comic book lore and what not.  I bet if you ask most parents there is that one thing that they love with each kid over the others because it is where they connect. 

LeeshaE LeeshaE

Only have one so he's my favorite :) But my brother has always been the favorite despite being the more troubled person. It used to bother me not getting the attention he got but as we've gotten older I have been the more successful one and I take solace in that. He is too dependent on my father who paid his rent for years. I on the other hand was kicked out a 20 (my dad's just jerk) and have been on my own since, it has taught me great responsibility and independence two skills my brother lacks. I have no animosity towards either of them because I know I am better off not being the favorite.

mamaxs4 mamaxs4

My inlaws think I play favorites....they see the younger one getting a little more attention. I hope with the last birthday parties I threw for my kids they see I spoil them equally!  My son gets in trouble for different things then she does. They don't see the disipline...they see my struggles in trying to figure out how to displine in front of them. They forget that I have sat my ds5 in timeout in the middle of Wal-mart, they forget that my dd is 10 and can fend for herself a little bit. I guess they think I need to wait on them both hand and foot.


I love them both, I just get along better with my son. He's the baby! She's my artsy girl. There are things I do to be equal. He just doesn't annoy me nearly as much lol

nonmember avatar Cameron

my parents have always like my brother better. they say that im the older one so i should know better. yet my brother is only two years younger. i have depression cause of it and school now.

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