Do Parents Actually Have a Favourite Child? Science Says Yes

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Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

Believe it or not, child favouritism among parents may be a reality for some families. But as the Wall Street Journal reports, the solution is in finding a healthy balance. Last year, the Journal of Marriage and Family published a study in which 75% of mothers admitted to being closer to one of their adult children. Back in a 2005 study, researchers also discovered that 74% of mothers and 70% of fathers showed preferential treatment to at least one child.

The Favourite Child author Ellen Weber Libby, PhD, admits that favouritism among parents is still taboo, but it's also very common. "Parents need to know that favouritism is normal," she told WSJ. "When preferential treatment is consistently focused on just one child or is used to boost a parent’s self-esteem and feed their own ego, then it can easily cross the line to being unhealthy." 

But both sides of the coin have their disadvantages. A 2014 Journal of Family Psychology study found that the less-favoured child can be negatively impacted when it comes to behaviour, while a Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences study back in 2015 showed that children who were the closest to their mothers "reported higher depressive symptoms than did other siblings," according to Purdue University Sociology Professor J. Jill Suitor.

Many parents feel guilty upon realising they do favour one of their children, but then deny it instead of trying to change. "Denying your favouritism is the worst thing a parent can do because it will make you less likely to pay attention to it," states Libby. She recommends making a concerted effort to pay equal attention to all children and acknowledging comments of favouritism when they arise. No denial or defence of past actions should be brought to the table—just an openness to listen.

Head over to the Wall Street Journal for more, and pick up a copy of Libby's book, The Favourite Childfor an in-depth read on the topic.

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