Do Parents Really Have a Favorite Child?

mixed race couple with children


If you're like most parents, when someone asks you which one of your children is your favorite, you probably respond with an emphatic "none of them!"

Turns out, this response may not be completely accurate though. Even if you don't fully recognize it, research indicates that there's a good chance that you actually do have a favorite.

In fact, one study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found 74% of moms and 70% of dads reported preferential treatment toward one child. And even though parents in the study did not indicate which child they preferred, siblings can often report sensing which child is the parent's favorite.

Typically, this favoritism has nothing to do with loving one child more than other though. Instead, it's more likely based on how your personality resonates with one child's personality more than another. Even if parents recognize this connection, they are still reluctant to admit it out loud for fear of hurting the other child's feelings.

Parents also tend to worry that they discriminate between their kids and do not treat equitably, even if they try really hard not to. If you are particularly worried about showing favoritism in your parenting, here are some things you can do to make sure you are treating all your children with the same love, empathy, and generosity.

Examine Your Feelings

Examining your feelings toward each child is a good place to start, especially if you want to ensure that you aren't showing favoritism in your family. Doing so will lead to a better relationship with all of your children.

Not only can this self-examination provide insight into any subconscious motivations, it also can improve your parenting and lead to a healthier family environment.

Examining how you feel about each of your children is likely to provide insight into your thoughts and feelings about yourself. Knowing how you respond to each child and why will help you know what needs to corrected. Additionally, having a greater insight into your own internal world will help you know why you do what you do.

Recognize Feelings May Be Temporary

Remember that your relationships with your kids are not set in stone. Every relationship goes through a season. So while you may feel more connected to one child at a particular point in time, this is likely to change.

Consequently, if you are struggling in a relationship with your teen but getting along blissfully with your middle school student, you need to recognize that this tension that you're experiencing is likely only temporary. It's also is not an indication that your relationship with your middle school student will never experience challenges.

Instead of making sweeping generalizations about your relationships with your kids, try to weather each storm just like you would in any other relationship. Recognize when they are going through a phase or identify why things might be challenging and love them through it.

The key is that you don't let the difficult situations cloud your judgment or cause you to make assumptions about the child you are struggling to parent at the time.

Avoid Comparisons

Every child needs to know that they have things that make them unique and special. But when you compare your kids, this message gets lost. Even just complimenting one child in front of another can make them wonder if they measure up.

And if you often make comparisons like "See how clean Bailey's room is? You should keep your room like that." Comparisons between two children often backfire and cause the child who is being compared to the "golden child" to just give up and refuse to try any longer.

Additionally, kids naturally want to please their parents. When you compare them to each other, this increases their anxiety and stress levels and lowers their self-esteem—especially when they start to believe that their sibling is better than they are.

Instead of making comparisons, be sure you are consistently pointing out the positives in each child. For instance, you might comment on how hard one child worked on a project and comment on how thoughtful another child was when they created a card for a sick friend.

However, it might be a better idea to find a quiet time to share this information with them privately. Regardless of whether you do it or not, the child not being complimented will assume that you are happier with the other child and forget the compliments you have paid them in the past.

Resist the Urge to Accommodate

Accommodating a younger child or a child with special needs can be frustrating for the other siblings. If they consistently feel like they aren't allowed to watch certain television programs because it scares their sibling or they can't have certain foods because their sibling has an allergy, they can start to feel resentful.

When you can, try to resist the urge to accommodate one child over the other. No matter how justified the accommodation is, it will always feel unfair to the other child.

Of course, there are times when you have no option but to accommodate your special needs child or your youngest child. But when you do, take time to explain to your other children why you made the decision you did. Then, be willing to listen to how they feel about it. Be empathetic and supportive even if you can't make a different decision.

Make Things Equitable

One of the easiest ways to make sure you're not showing favoritism is to make sure you make things equitable. In other words, at the holidays, make sure each child has the same number of gifts to open and that you have spent roughly the same amount of money on each child. Even if you have to wrap some gifts together, it's important that one child does not have more gifts than the other.

Other ways to make things equitable, is to make sure that the extras you're providing for your kids are roughly the same. In other words, constantly picking up a toy for your youngest child when you're out but not doing anything for your other kids can appear like you're playing favorites even if your other kids are too old for toys. If you plan to buy a toy for your youngest, try to purchase something little for your other kids as well.

A Word From Verywell

When it's all said and done, it's important to remember that your relationship with each child is just like any other relationship. There are bound to be ups and downs with plenty of learning experiences for both you sprinkled in between.

By being proactive and recognizing what factors are at play, you will be able to avoid showing any type of favoritism. And while it's normal to value certain characteristics in each child, it's important that each child receive an endless supply of unconditional love and support from you.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.