Why Parents Shouldn't Have a Favorite Child: Negative Effects of Favoritism

Favoritism is a subject parents don't always like to discuss. There is no question that it exists. I have seen it play out in various families over the years. Favoritism can play out in simple situations or it can be an ongoing thing. Following are some of the possible negative effects of favoritism, what some experts say, and why parents shouldn't have a favorite child.

As for me, I love all of my children equally, but for different reasons. They each are individuals, but I do not love one more than the other. Answering honestly, not all parents will have this same response. This does not make me better or worse than those who do not feel the same. It just means we have different feelings and possibly different viewpoints.

What is Favoritism?

Favoritism in parenting occurs when a parent prefers or sides with one child over the others on an issue or just in general.

How Destructive is Favoritism?

I personally believe that favoritism can be destructive if practiced often. I have seen it play out in others and even have negative effects on their adult lives.

I asked David A. Reinstein, LCSW (a clinical social worker and psychotherapist) his thoughts on favoritism and this is what he shared with me:

"Favoritism, in one form or another, is an ever present reality in parenting. People don't like to hear this, but I speak from many years of experience with thousands of families. It can be destructive, but more generally is not - it is just a reality.

The cause is not a mystery. Everyone is different. Each parent and each kid. The 'matches' of style and temperament vary between any two people, including between a parent and each of his/her kids. It is probably impossible for 'favoritism' to not exist, despite what parents have been taught it is better to believe and honestly feel. Most parents, given truth serum, would confess that they like certain things about one of their children better than they like things about another. This feeds favoritism, conscious or otherwise.

The true issue is not, I think, whether or not the phenomenon exists, but the awareness that the parent brings to it in how they deal with their feelings and with their kids. Many parents love all of their children, but that does not mean that they do not favor one or the other (and the kids generally know who is who from the time they are quite young.) What it DOES mean is that 'fair' does not mean 'the same' either in feelings or actions.


Shortly thereafter, he wrote an interesting article on the subject called Parents DO Have Favorites: So Do Children, which is an interesting read.

I do agree with him that parents can relate to and appreciate certain characteristics in their kids. I don't discount the fact that this could cause some parents to favor one child over another. However, as a parent myself, I can honestly say that factor has no effect on the amount of love I feel for or give to each child. They each have their own special talents and I love and appreciate them all for their uniqueness. I appreciate their varied talents, but do not prefer any of them (or their characteristics) over the others. To me, that's like comparing apples to oranges. I don't prefer one over the other, but like them both for different reasons.

Favoritism May Cause Egotistical Ideals

When there is a favorite child, often this child knows and understands that fact. That knowledge could cause a child to be egotistical. It is ideal for a child to love himself. However, it is not a good thing when the child thinks of herself before others. Showing favoritism toward one child could cause him to feel that he is more important than others and that his needs come before those of anyone else. That is exactly what the favoritism shows and it is likely to carry with that child throughout life. This could lead to major disappoint when (note that I did not say "if" here) the real world doesn't dish out that same favoritism.

Favoritism May Cause Low Self-Esteem in Siblings

When one child is favored over the others, it can have the opposite effect discussed above. The other children may feel as though they are unimportant and their feelings don't matter as much. They are used to being given a lower priority and therefore may carry that mentality throughout life. According to an article in PsychologyToday, many adults name favoritism as a root cause of self-esteem and relationship failure issues in their adult lives.

Favoritism May Cause Unhealthy State of Mind With Goals and Dreams

Both the favorite child and the others can have an unhealthy outlook on life and on future goals and dreams. The favored child may expect that everything in life will be handed to him if that is the way it's done in the home. On the other hand, an unfavored child may look at his aspirations with thoughts like "Why would something this great happen for me? I'm nobody special."

What Can Parents Do to Avoid Favoritism?

For some parents, this may come naturally. But all parents would do well to pay attention to the way they treat their children in comparison to one another. Of course not each situation can be treated equal because all parenting scenarios are different, especially when you factor in varied age groups. However, parents can be conscious of things like whether they give one child more punishments or privileges for similar behaviors. The main thing to remember is to be aware of your actions and simply love and support all of the children.

*Note: The author is not a licensed health professional. If you have concerns about you or child's well-being, seek the advice of a licensed health professional.

Have you seen or felt the effects of favoritism? Just have something to say? Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. The author welcomes constructive discussion.