Parental Favouritism: Unraveling the Impact on Children

Parental Favouritism: Unraveling the Impact on Children

Parental favoritism is a delicate and often unspoken issue that pervades many families. It's the practice of parents showing preferential treatment to one child over others, whether intentionally or not. This phenomenon can have profound and lasting effects on children's mental and emotional well-being, sibling relationships, and family dynamics.

In this blog post, we will unravel the complex world of parental favoritism, exploring its underlying causes, its multifaceted impact on children, and strategies to mitigate its harmful effects. Join us as we delve into this sensitive subject that resonates with many families across generations.

The Reality of Parental Favoritism

Parental favoritism is more than just a perception; it's a reality that affects many families. A survey by the Survey Center on American Life found that 40 percent of Americans raised with siblings believe their parents had a favorite child, a pattern that varies little across generations from Baby Boomers to Generation Z. This favoritism, or even the mere perception of it, can have far-reaching negative consequences.

The reasons behind favoritism can be complex and multifaceted. Sometimes, it's influenced by shared interests, personality differences, or even medical concerns. However, the perception of favoritism can be as damaging as actual favoritism. Even if parents strive to be fair, children may still feel that one sibling is favored over the others.

Research has also shown that favoritism is associated with negative outcomes such as loneliness and a lack of connection to siblings. Those who grew up in families with favorites were more than twice as likely to report feeling lonely at least once a week. Additionally, stressful situations like divorce may increase perceptions of parental favoritism, further complicating family dynamics.

Impact on Children's Mental and Emotional Health


sad little girl hugging toy, looking out window


Uninvolved parenting, characterized by a lack of emotional engagement and responsiveness, can inadvertently foster feelings of favoritism within a family. The perception of being less favored can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and a lack of connection to siblings. According to the Survey Center on American Life, Americans who grew up in families with favorites were twice as likely to feel lonely at least once a week.

This sense of isolation can further lead to depression and anxiety. The feeling of being pigeonholed into labels like 'the smart one' or 'the difficult child' can severely affect a child's self-esteem and identity. It creates an environment where children may constantly strive to earn their parents' approval or, conversely, withdraw from family interactions.


For men, in particular, parental favoritism may mean having no one to lean on. Nearly one in five men raised in families where there was a favorite child reported having no one they could go to for help. This lack of support can have long-term consequences on mental well-being. Even being the favorite child is not without its problems. Those who were favored are less likely to report satisfaction with their sibling relationships, showing that favoritism is universally problematic.


The emotional toll of parental favoritism is complex and far-reaching. It affects not only the child's relationship with their parents and siblings but also their self-perception, self-esteem, and overall mental health. Addressing this issue requires a deep understanding of the underlying dynamics and a commitment to fostering a fair and loving family environment.


How Favoritism Changes the Way Siblings Connect


Sibling relationships are often the most enduring connections in a person's life, but parental favoritism can significantly strain these bonds. The Institute for Family Studies highlights how favoritism influences the contours of sibling relationships, affecting closeness, rivalry, and long-term connections.

Nearly half of Americans who grew up without a favorite child in the family reported having a very close relationship with their siblings. In contrast, less than one-third of those who perceived parental favoritism reported such closeness. This favoritism fuels resentment and rivalry among siblings, leading to a lack of trust and intimacy.

The negative consequences of favoritism extend into adulthood. Even as adults, those who perceived that their parents had a favorite child are much less likely to report satisfaction with their sibling relationships. The enduring effect on sibling bonds can lead to lifelong tensions and misunderstandings. Family dynamics, such as divorce and marital status, also play a role in how close siblings feel to one another. For instance, men who grew up with divorced parents reported feeling more distant from their siblings.


The Influence of Favoritism on Parent-Child Relationships


sister is jealous of her mother to her brother


The perception or reality of favoritism can damage the trust and closeness between parents and children, leading to long-term consequences. Growing up, children who perceived parental favoritism were far less likely to seek support from a family member, particularly a parent, when dealing with personal problems.

According to the Survey Center on American Life, close to half of Americans who say their parents did not pick favorites turned to their mother for support, compared to substantially fewer of those raised in families with a favorite child.

For men, this lack of support can be even more pronounced. Nearly one in five men raised in families where there was a favorite child reported having no one to turn to for help. This lack of a support system can lead to feelings of isolation and estrangement.

Furthermore, the perception of favoritism may lead to dissatisfaction with the parent-child relationship. Even those who believed they were the favorite child reported less satisfaction with their relationship with their parents compared to those who felt their parents did not have a favorite. Parental favoritism also correlates with childhood loneliness and affects educational expectations, further shaping the child's life trajectory.


Key Strategies To Prevent Parental Favoritism


Parental favoritism, whether intentional or unintentional, can have lasting impacts on children's mental and emotional well-being, sibling relationships, and parent-child bonds. It's a complex issue that requires careful consideration and proactive strategies to mitigate its harmful effects. Attachment parenting, focusing on close emotional bonds and responsiveness, can be a powerful antidote to feelings of favoritism. Here are some other key strategies that parents can employ to avoid favoritism within the family:


Acknowledging Feelings

Open communication is vital in any relationship, and the family is no exception. Parents must recognize and talk about feelings of favoritism, both within themselves and as perceived by their children. This includes:

  • Listening Actively: Encouraging children to express how they feel without judgment.
  • Reflecting on Behavior: Parents should self-reflect to understand if they are unintentionally showing favoritism.
  • Creating a Safe Space: Ensuring that all family members feel safe to express their feelings and concerns.

Engaging in Shared Interests

Building strong relationships with each child individually can help in avoiding favoritism. This involves:

  • Identifying Individual Interests: Understanding what each child enjoys and engaging in those activities.
  • Spending Quality Time: Allocating one-on-one time with each child to nurture individual relationships.
  • Fostering a Team Environment: Encouraging siblings to participate in shared interests together, promoting unity.

Mindfulness in Stressful Situations

Stressful situations like divorce, financial worries, or marital problems can exacerbate feelings of favoritism. Being mindful during these times is crucial:

  • Being Aware of Behavior: Recognizing how stress may influence behavior towards children.
  • Seeking Professional Help if Needed: Therapists or counselors can provide support in navigating complex family dynamics.
  • Implementing Stress Management Techniques: Practicing mindfulness or other stress-reducing strategies to maintain a balanced approach to parenting.

You may also likeHow to Be a Good Parent: 10 Essential Tips for Raising Happy Kids


Final Thoughts


Parental favoritism is a complicated issue with far-reaching impacts on children's mental health, sibling relationships, and parent-child bonds. By understanding its multifaceted nature and implementing thoughtful strategies, families can foster a fair and loving environment. The journey towards equity and empathy within the family is both essential and attainable.

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