I Have a Favorite Child: What Do I Do?

Having a favorite child may be natural, but it's essential to recognize and manage this preference. Keep reading to learn more.
I Have a Favorite Child: What Do I Do?
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 05 February, 2023

If asked directly, all parents deny having a favorite child. Admitting this can be extremely uncomfortable, painful, and discouraging, as parents are expected to be fair, loving, and even-handed with all their children. However, the parent-child bond is nothing more than a relationship between human beings and, therefore, it’s natural for there to be different degrees of affinity.

Although this is a taboo subject, some research has found that more than 70% of parents feel a preference for one of their offspring. And, if we ask their children, many of them will point out that they perceive a clear difference in the attitude and treatment they and their siblings receive. Given such clear evidence, what can we do about it?

What does it mean to have a favorite child?

First of all, it’s important to define what it means to have a favorite child, because only in this way will we be able to become aware of whether this is our case. This implies feeling a greater attraction, sympathy, or affinity towards one of them. Either because we share hobbies and interests or because their personality complements ours better.

A more active, spontaneous, and sporty father will feel closer to one of his children who also shows these qualities. And a more serene and reflective mother will find it easier to relate to that quiet child who loves reading and prefers less stimulating spaces.

A mother hugging her children.
Having a favorite child is something natural and irremediable and doesn’t have to be a problem. However, it doesn’t mean that you feel a deeper love for them than for the rest.

How to act if you have a favorite child?

Having a favorite child isn’t a problem in and of itself. However, it’s a problem when this natural preference manifests itself in unfair and inappropriate treatment of children. Therefore, here are some tips that can help you in this regard.

Accept what you feel

Recognizing this certain preference is necessary to avoid unintentionally demonstrating it and harming any of your children. Discard the guilt, as this feeling is natural and understandable. And, if one of the children notices it and lets you know, try to validate their emotions, explain what’s happening, and remind them that your love for them is unconditional.

You can use phrases such as: “I understand that you’re hurt because you feel that I prefer your sibling, but I love you both equally. It’s just that they like sports like me, and that’s why we spend more time together, but I’d love to spend more time with you and you can join in whenever you want.”

Develop a strong bond with all your children

Even if you feel closer to one of your children, it’s important that you make an effort to get to know all of them in depth. Try to spend a few minutes a day with all of them and organize special outings with each of them on a regular basis.

If each child can choose the activity to do on these outings, you’ll be able to get to know their interests. It’s likely that by increasing shared time, emotional closeness and trust will also increase.

A brother who's jealous of his mother's relationship with his little sister.
Even if you have a favorite child, try to approach education and parenting in an individualized way and meet each child’s needs for affection and support at all times.

Give fair treatment

Feeling a certain preference for one of your children may lead you to overlook their faults or praise them more than the others. However, it’s important that you try to be fair and even-handed in setting limits and consequences.

All your children should have similar rights and responsibilities, as long as they’re age-appropriate. In addition, you should try to reinforce the positive behaviors you see in all of them, even if some are more visible than others.

Be the best mother for each of them

Instead of comparing how you treat your children, focus on being the best mother for each of them. Each child has different emotional needs. Some are more demanding and others are more independent. One may need more emotional support and another may need more help with homework.

Avoid the consequences of having a favorite child

Having a favorite child and blatantly showing it is detrimental to everyone in the family. Children who aren’t their parents’ favorites may feel rejected and invalidated, while the chosen one may grow up without limits and with added pressure due to their parents’ expectations.

In addition, the atmosphere at home can become tense and unharmonious, damaging the relationships between parents and children. For the same reason, it’s essential that you become aware of your preferences and how they manifest themselves on a daily basis. This way, you can try to make the appropriate changes. Remember that all your children need love, acceptance, attention, and support.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Shebloski B, Conger KJ, Widaman KF. Reciprocal links among differential parenting, perceived partiality, and self-worth: a three-wave longitudinal studyJournal of Family Psychology. 2005;19(4):633-642. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.19.4.633
  • Pillemer K, Suitor JJ, Pardo S, Henderson C. Mothers Differentiation and Depressive Symptoms Among Adult ChildrenJournal of Marriage and Family. 2010;72(2):333-345. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00703.x

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.