Is it OK to have a favourite child?

Is it OK to have a favourite child?

It’s a taboo, but sometimes it’s just easier to love one child more than another. How do they and we cope?


Feelings of favouritism often rear up at different stages of mothering – they can even become the butt of long-running family jokes. Mostly, they are based on unavoidable things, such as the child’s position in the family or gender, or simply temperament (yours, firstly, then your children’s). But these things are always based on our own past experiences, in our own lives, not our children’s.

One child may have qualities that are so different from your own that you see them as strengths or weaknesses. Parents often see themselves in a child, and this can result in differential treatment, a parent will either be harder on that child, or easier, depending on how they felt society treated those traits in them.

Also we spend so much time trying not to do what our parents did that we forget to see our children as whole, separate individuals.

Reading the signs
Depending on their temperament a favoured child can flourish, or turn into an overly responsible coper.  They can buckle under the weight of responsibility, or have trouble affirming themselves and always rely on outsiders for attention; a similar thing goes for those children who are overlooked. Overcompensating for favouritism doesn’t work either. Striving to treat children the same, results in neither of them feeling appropriately acknowledged, your attention is split, and in this way can never be enough. Plus, you’ll wear yourself out, and probably crumble. Favouritism splits the world into good and bad, achiever and non-achiever. What we really want is a more integrated, individual approach where we show children that there are aspects of good and bad in everything, helping them to better accept themselves, others, and the world. Favouritism is also the root of sibling rivalry. It causes envy between children, since it functions on comparisons, and can result in bad behaviour and conflict.
There may be certain parts of one child that you really enjoy, which may not be as present in the other child.

First, a look at you
Parents need to understand their children as being separate from themselves, that they are individuals in their own right. Often there is a lot of projection of our own issues. When you understand and accept yourself, it’s easier to understand and accept your child.

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Pay attention to character
Children have a temperament and it’s either a good fit or a bad fit with ours. As parents, we need to shift and adapt to that. You can’t love children equally, but you can love them differently, and well, according to their temperament.

Leaning in
Spending a lot of time trying to be fair or trying to treat your kids equally can leave you exhausted and exasperated and also affect your kids, causing them to loose their individuality. When praising a child, praise them for the task at hand, not in general. For example: “I really enjoyed that song you played on the piano” rather than “You’re the musician in the family” otherwise you invite comparison.
Most importantly, try to acknowledge that the connection you have with one child is different from the other, and that each situation demands a different type of management with each child.

Step down
Handling your different love for each child can be tricky when they’re fighting. You need to become a mediator and bear in mind that the conflict is about their relationship and between the two of them. Use key questions to direct the conflict (What are you doing? What do you want out of this? What is the best way of getting it?). Take away the unspoken competitiveness between siblings, and allow them to resolve it themselves.

It isn’t easy
Parenting is not instinctive nor straightforward, but acknowledging how you feel about each child is the first step to looking into what issues are at play in your family life. Treating each child as they are is an integral part of growing each individual and it’s really up to you to know your child and take it from there. If children feel that they are valued for who they are, understood, and affirmed, that there’s a strong connection with their caregiver(s), then they are much more resilient later in life.

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