Child Favoritism

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on novembre 19, 2012 1:21

What is favoritism? Favoritism in simple, is the intentional or unintentional preferential treatment of an individual or group of persons.  Parents who favor one child over another, are subscribing to the notion that one child is better behaved, more attractive, similar in personality to the favoring parent, or they have preferred kinship.  

Favoritism is commonly associated with a bond that develops between the child and the parent.   Moreover, the favoring parent may have a guilt, remorse, or negative emotion associated with the unfavored child.   In some cases, a detachment occurs because of some major traumatic event or a major life challenge.   Such cases can breach the bond between the parent and child.   If a child is conceived unexpectedly or without a desire, the parent may withdraw emotionally, cognitively, and physically from the child.  Children who are born with physical birth defects, psychological or psychiatric challenges, or a comorbidity of issues simultaneously, can prove burdensome to the oppositional or unattached parent.  

Favoritism is not always intentional.  Favoritism can occur when a child favors or resembles a parent whether physically or through a particular personality style.  Moreover, favoritism is not always related  to a resemblance of a parental figure, rather it is a fondness established between a parent and a child.  In some cases, if a child is too much alike the parental figure, then this too may cause a rift between the parent and child.   The parent may ultimately see qualities in the child that they dislike or distain.  The heart of the matter is such parents want ease and comfortability.  


Attachment is key in any relationship.  If a parent is incompetent, lacking the necessary skills or desires to parent, then we have a clear understanding of why the parental-child bond is faulty.  However, if the parent is of sound mind and ability, then the confusion becomes central to the dynamic between the child and parent.   Why is it that some parents intentionally choose to breach the welfare of the child-parent relationship?  Is there something about the relationship that that has ignited and fueled the breach? Or, has the parent themselves had a breach in his/her own safety and care as a child? 

Attachment is the ability to show an emotional closeness, fondness, empathy, and familiarity to someone else.  When a parent is unattached, they may act out through an oppositional manner, rejecting the emotional connection from another. 

The detriment unto a child who is lacking parental closeness or bonding, may not present itself until later in life. “Unfavored children grow up with distorted, negative views of themselves. They are vulnerable to feeling defeated, believing that hard work and determination will not reap the rewards they desire. Depression often accompanies this experience.” (Libby, 2011, Online)


In 2005, Shebloski, Conger, and Widaman, conducted research through the University of California, Davis, on the “Reciprocal links among differential parenting, perceived partiality, and self-worth: A three-wave longitudinal study.”  (Shebloski, Conger, & Widaman, 2005, Online) The research informed us that 65% of mothers have a favorite child, while 70% of fathers have a favorite child.   Is this research distorted or does it inform us of some unspoken rule?

A Time Magazine Journalist, Jeffrey Kluger published an article in October of 2011.  In his article, he discusses the variabilities of favoritism, the causation, and the problems with parents favoring one child over another.   The article titled “Why Mom Liked You Best:  The Science of Favoritism,” he poignantly writes  “As with so much else in child-rearing behavior, it begins with the parents’ survival needs: the biologically narcissistic act of replicating themselves through succeeding generations. This impels Mom and Dad to tilt in favor of their biggest, healthiest offspring, since those kids will be more reproductively successful and get more of the family’s genes into the next generation.” (Kluger, 2011, Online)  Is Mr. Kluger correct or is there more to this picture?

The television show; What Would You Do? addressed the controversial topic of parental favoritism.  In the October 9, 2012  episode titled, “I Don’t Think My Mom Wants Me” a mother was portrayed favoring one daughter over another.   The setting was placed in a local clothing shop.  While the scene was merely fictitious, the mother’s attitudes were resemblant of many parents who knowingly favor one child over another.  

Discouragingly, the research, as well as the media have offered little discussion on this topic.   While there has been a recent surge of interest, the extent with which we have addressed this particular issue has been minor in nature. 


Favoritism is not always a spoken language.  It can occur through our nonverbal actions.   If a child sees you offering gestures of affection towards their sibling, while denying them of such affection.  Then the child may become confused, jealous or emotionally scarred by your actions.  It is essential that when you recognize a negative deed, whether intentional or not, that you modifying your behavior for the good of your children.   

Favoritism is not always recognized by the favoring person.  Whether they are unconsciously unaware of their favoring, or simply living in a state of denial, such favoring does occur.  It is vitally important that parents seek to be fair and balanced in their approach to childrearing.    A preventive measure would be to periodically ask oneself,  “am I being favorable towards one child over another?”  It is of the utmost importance that “if” we become aware of such unconscious behaviors, that we modify our behaviors according to the action. Do not allow your negative behaviors to solidify, or the repercussions could be at the determent of your children. 

Again, it is of the utmost importance that children who have not received the proper proportions of attachment, which are the merits of attention, acceptance, and approval, receive them before it is too late.  “Research and clinical experience show that attachment capacity is easiest to shape if early identification and intervention takes place.” (Perry, 2012, Online)


Favoritism was expected of many.  It was and is obvious in governments that practice monarchial   reigns.  It is the sort of behavior that eliminates the weakling from the herd.  Ensuring that the fit child will carry on your genetic makeup.  “That kind of reductionist, bottom-line behavior is something we share with creatures throughout the animal kingdom. A crested-penguin mother will kick the smaller of her two eggs out of the nest, the better to focus on the presumably heartier chick in the bigger shell. A black-eagle mother will watch idly while her bigger chick rips her smaller one to ribbons.” (Kluger, 2011, Online)

Behaviorally and genetically, it is an animalistic feature of our makeup.   Historically, the eldest child, preferably a son, is commonly the favored child because he will ensure the namesake of a family. 

Favoritism is a learned behavior.  In a majority of cases, we favor or prefer particular foods, drinks, sport teams, musical genres, intellectual conversations, political environments, spiritual paradigms, and other life choices based on our parental guidance.  

Favoritism can be actions that are merely subtle to a concrete absolute.


Children who are offered unconditional love, acceptance, and approval will be guaranteed equality.  While some parents may have more in common with a particular child; favoritism has nothing to do with life’s commonalities. 

When we purposefully set out to offer our children unconditional love, we drastically decrease the possibility and probability of causing them grave harm.   “Love is an intense conscious and unconscious response to a deep inner set of emotions and feelings.  True love—unconditional love—knows no limits…  It endures all hardships.  Love is an innate drive very similar to the drives of hunger and thirst.  It is, so it needs to be quenched.” (Brown, 2010, P. 40)

“What is critical is that all children trust they are loved and appreciated for what makes them special. Love is unconditional whereas favoritism is not. Favoritism depends upon children behaving in ways that gratifies parents.” (Libby, 2011, Online)  “As a parent, I have learned the true meaning of unconditional love.  The unconditional mind informs us that there are no limits to our ability to love or forgive.  The unconditional mind sees us as always attractive, acceptable, and worthy. (Brown, 2010, P. 97) For children, knowing that they are unconditionally loved, accepted, and approved of; eliminates any discussion of worthlessness, insecurity, or a generalized feeling that they offer no real value or purpose.   


As parents, we need to be diligent in our parenting.   We should continuously seek to be and offer our very best in life.  Similar to an athlete preparing for a match, we should strive to improve areas of weaknesses and while reinforcing those areas that are our strengths.   We should recognize that we are vulnerable, imperfect, and fragile needing continuous improvement as parents and as an individual person.  Likewise, remembering that while we maybe imperfect, imperfection is simply a challenge for us to prove better beings.  

Most-of-all, we need to remember that we too want to feel and experience the virtues of unconditional love, unconditional acceptance, and unconditional approval. 

Author:   Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., N.C.C.M.


Brown, A. D. (2010) Waiting to live. New York:  iUniverse

Libby, E. W. (2011) When favoritism becomes abuse.  Retrieved:  November 12, 2012 from

Perry, B. D. (2012) Attachment:  The first core strength.  Retrieved: November 12, 2012 from

Shebloski, B., Conger, K. J., & Widaman, K. (2005). Reciprocal links among differential parenting, perceived partiality, and self-worth: A three-wave longitudinal study. Journal of Family Psychology. Special issue: Sibling relationship contributions to individual and family well-being, 19, 633-642.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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