There are times when every parent questions their parenting skills. This is especially true when it comes to handling personal feelings about their own children.
Different ages, stages of development, and personality traits can make parents feel as though they’re biased toward a particular sibling.
Is it wrong to have a favorite child? Favoring one child over another at times is normal for parents of multiple children. It’s not wrong to have a favorite child so long as it does not impact treatment or discipline. Differentiating between children can cause a lasting negative impact on social and emotional health and development.
Keep reading to learn more about parental preference, how it affects children, and ways to mitigate the consequences.
Favoring One Child Over Another: Why It Happens
Studies show that roughly 70% of parents have favorite children — making it a common occurrence in most families. While parents may carry guilt over the thought, there are a plethora of reasons why this can happen.
1. Birth Order
Eldest and youngest siblings are more likely to be favored by parents than middle children. The youngest child is typically fawned over as “the baby” who needs both attention and protection.
On the other hand, parents may view the oldest child as special since he or she was the one who started it all and made them parents.
Despite popular belief, parents are more likely to favor their same-sex children.
This means that fathers are more likely to understand, spend time with, and provide support for their sons. The same is true for mothers with their daughters. This instinct comes from a place of sympathy and social understanding.
3. Children’s Personality/Behavior
Some children have temperaments, personality traits, or behaviors that parents either relate to or detest. Whether these characteristics are viewed as positive or negative has a lot to do with how it reflects on the parents.
For example, if a child has a flaw that mirrors one of the parents, that characteristic is going to be met with resistance. If a child embraces behavior that the parents are fond of, it will be celebrated.
4. Developmental Stages
Relationships between parents and children differ depending on the child’s stage of development.
For example, a mother may favor an infant over an adolescent because she feels needed, whereas a father may favor the child in adolescence because he can’t participate as actively with the infant.
In many cases, parents favor children in certain developmental stages over those in more difficult stages.
The infant, toddler, and early childhood stages are often more reliant on the maternal figure. Parents typically have no trouble loving their children in this age group, most likely because of the high dependency and the cuteness factor.
As the children grow into late childhood and adolescence, fathers often take on more of the responsibility. Children in this age category often delight in pushing boundaries and making parenting a challenge.
It’s not hard to understand that parents may show favor to younger, easier-to-handle children when their older kids are giving them problems.
5. Time Spent Bonding
There is a direct correlation between parental favoritism and time spent bonding with the favored child.
Many factors outside of a parent’s control impact how often they can prioritize one-on-one time with their children, including pursuing an education, advancing in a career, and struggling with mental or physical health issues.
6. Children’s Achievements
Some parents associate academic or athletic achievement with dedication, focus, and ambition. These attributes are often praised and rewarded.
When one sibling displays exceptional talent in either of these areas, the other child(ren) can seem lacking in comparison.
Parents Who Treat Siblings Differently – Long-Term Effects
Despite favoritism being a common experience among parents, it shouldn’t be displayed in front of the kids. Treating siblings differently has a long-lasting impact on their social development, emotional health, and personal relationships.
1. Sibling Rivalry / Resentment
Competition, bickering, and jealousy are a natural part of sibling relationships. However, parenting dynamics that favor one party over the other will likely escalate existing issues.
Sometimes these problems work themselves out over time through communication and understanding between siblings. Other times, animosity toward one another continues into adulthood.
2. Least Favorite Child Syndrome
The unfavored child feels like an outsider in their own home. They often develop adaptations to blend into their environment, becoming distant and non-confrontational.
On the other hand, these children may act out in an attempt to draw attention to themselves through rebellion. These actions can further damage parental perception, harshening the cycle of favoritism and how it plays out in the home.
3. Golden Child Syndrome
The favored child may also suffer adverse consequences. Some “golden children” develop pleasing tendencies and a crippling fear of failure. Others hang on to an undeserved sense of entitlement and ego.
Their relationships with siblings and authority figures are often impacted negatively by their parent’s show of favoritism.
4. Diminished Self-Esteem
Differentiating treatment due to parental preference is shown to affect multiple facets of self-esteem but not in the ways you’d expect.
Unfavored children actually possess higher social and overall self-esteem, whereas favored children have higher confidence within the home. Diminished self-esteem in any capacity can lead to distorted feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
5. Seeking Approval in Unhealthy Ways
As mentioned, low self-esteem from feeling unaccepted in the home can cause altered thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This may lead unfavored children to seek the approval they lack at home from other sources.
Children seeking approval often do so through negative means such as compulsivity, promiscuity, dependency, or escapism.
Favored children are also prone to these negative habits and behaviors. Oftentimes, they chase freedom from parental expectations in the same ways.
6. Mental Health Issues
Studies show that both favored and unfavored children struggle with mental health obstacles as a result of parental preference.
While their challenges differ in some ways, both parties struggle to build and maintain healthy relationships, communicate effectively, and manage self-image.
Anxiety and depression are more likely in households where favoritism is prevalent.
7. Difficulty Trusting and Forming Strong Relationships
Parental relationships bare a powerful influence on how children attach to others throughout their lifetime.
When a child feels loved, accepted, respected, and understood by their parents, they form a healthy attachment style. If they feel degraded, misunderstood, disrespected, and unworthy, they struggle to develop trusting bonds.
How To Show Love to Your Children Equally
Parents are responsible for their children’s well-being and development. When favoritism plays a role in treatment and discipline, it impacts all children involved negatively.
For this reason, showing equal love, support, and acceptance for all children living in the home is vital. So, how can parents ensure the best outcome for all of their children?
Proportionate Boundaries and Consequences
Establish house rules that are fair for each child’s developmental stage. Create consequences that are age appropriate and proportionate to the act committed. Ensure that the enforcement of these rules doesn’t change based on parental bias.
Consistent Praise and Encouragement
When verbalizing affection, observe the frequency and quality given to each child. Try to notice and acknowledge victories, accomplishments, and efforts from all your children.
Don’t Draw Comparisons
Each child will require different forms of affection, methods of discipline, and support for growth. They will possess unique skills, attributes, and interests.
Drawing comparisons between siblings, even without announcing them, erases their personal identity and development.
Do Fathers Love Their Daughters More?
No, fathers do not love their daughters more. While studies indicate that fathers tend to favor their daughters, the words love and favor are not synonymous.
However, fathers often naturally possess a protective instinct over their daughters due to societal roles and expectations.
Why Do Mothers Love Their Sons More?
Mothers do not love their sons more than their daughters; however, they do statistically tend to show them favor.
This is primarily because females develop at an accelerated rate compared to males. Due to this, mothers typically have a more protective instinct toward sons than daughters.
Parents should not feel guilty about having a preference toward one child as it’s a common occurrence. Rather, they should acknowledge the feelings with the understanding that those feelings shouldn’t be acted upon.
Several studies have linked differing treatment and discipline between children with hindrances in social and emotional growth. Ensuring equal and fair treatment of all siblings is the best way to promote healthy development.
Charley is a mother of three with a passion for raising good humans. With her children in tow, she studies English and has made a career creating content about motherhood. In her free time, she enjoys traveling within the states to kayak, camp, and hike.