Playing favourites

9 October 2017

Playing favourites

  • Siblings
by Michael Grose

Favouritism is perhaps a taboo area in families. But parents rarely treat each child the same.

Do you have a favourite child in your family?

If so, you are quite normal according to recent research.

One Australian study found that around 70% of parents could identify a favourite child in their family. And nearly 80% could clearly identify the ‘black sheep’.

Favouritsim is a taboo area for most parents. There is an assumption that families are even playing fields where parents treat their kids exactly the same.

This is a myth that places excess pressure on parents and only adds to parental guilt. As most parents know, we may love our kids equally but we don’t always like them the same. Some kids, at particular times can be difficult to get along with, and more significantly impossible to relate to.

There are many reasons why parents may have a favourite child. Some children have personality types that you relate to more easily. For instance, achievement-oriented parents will recognise and applaud ambition in a child, and be flummoxed by a child that displays a more layback attitude.

At times we recognise aspects of ourselves in our kids, which influences the way we relate to them. Parents who themselves were the family black sheep as kids can often have a soft spot for the child who doesn’t exactly follow the norm.

Gender also plays a significant part when it comes to playing favourites. Some fathers are extremely hard on their sons, yet their daughters can have them wrapped around their little fingers. That’s the way of families.

Birth order plays its part as well. Most parents relax their standards for later borns, who get far more latitude than their elder siblings. We often identify closely to the child in the same birth order position as ourselves and compensate for any difficulties we may have experienced as kids.

It’s worth remembering that some children in larger families can get a little lost and feel that no one takes much notice of them. Significantly, middle children usually say they are rarely the favoured child in their family.

If you find yourself favouring a child, or even being hard on someone in your family, there are a number of things you can do:

  • Understand that you are not a bad parent if you do favour one child over another. Avoid the guilt trips and treat you kids as justly and fairly as you can.
  • Stick to the rules as much as possible. Kids tell us that parents play favourites when they discipline, so try to be as consistent as possible with standards of behaviour and kids who break the rules.
  • Work closely with your partner. Parents who work closely together often compensate for each other and also more likely to provide a reality check when you favour one child over another.
  • Encourage interaction with extended family. Having an aunt, grandparent or family friend that a child can relate to can be a godsend for a child who feels left out, or is not the flavour of the month.

Family-life is rarely simple. The notion of favourites demonstrates the complexity of family-life and why parents need to be realistic rather than idealistic about how they relate to their kids.


Speaking of favourites, Michael has selected his three favourite books and put them together as one fantastic, information-packed, value for money bundle.

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Michael Grose

Michael Grose, founder of Parenting Ideas, is one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He’s an award-winning speaker and the author of 12 books for parents including Spoonfed Generation, and the bestselling Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It. Michael is a former teacher with 15 years experience, and has 30 years experience in parenting education. He also holds a Master of Educational Studies from Monash University specialising in parenting education.