Few parents would ever admit (at least out loud) to having a favorite child—unless they were trying to cause conflict. But ask any group of siblings if there was a favorite child and many times they’ll agree that, yes, so-and-so was the Golden Child while so-and-so was the Family Goat (or black sheep, depending on the family).

If you’re a parent of more than one kid, what do you think your kids will say later on when they’re adults? Are you playing favorites without even knowing it, and if you are, how will it affect your kids?

So how do you know if you have a favorite kid, even if you can’t quite admit it to yourself? Here are five signs that you might be playing favorites:

  1. Your younger child “gets away” with a lot more than your older child, who can become resentful. This is common and often related to favoritism of younger children.
  2. You find yourself more relaxed around a favored child. You smile more, laugh more, and are less stressed.
  3. Your tone and choice of words changes when discussing your children with outsiders, including friends, teachers and others.
  4. You have uneven expectations for your children. Paradoxically, lower expectations are often a sign of favoritism, while unfavored children are frequently held to a higher standard on chores, behavior, and even academic performance.
  5. You get very defensive and uncomfortable when the topic of favoritism comes up, possibly as a way to hide guilt.

According to Dr. Ellen Weber Libby, a psychotherapist, columnist for Psychology Today and author of The Favorite Child, it’s normal for most parents to have a favorite child, and that favoritism isn’t the same as withholding love. After all, Dr. Libby writes, “No children are identical, making it impossible for any two children to be treated the same.”

Moreover, favoritism can be fluid, depending on ages and stages—a favorite toddler may slip in parental estimation when he or she becomes as unruly teen, while their previously meek sibling emerges as a star student.

Yet favoritism predictably has a number of negative consequences, beyond the self-esteem issues it can cause in non-favored children. Children are highly sensitive to their parent’s emotional states, so they often instinctively know who the favorite child is (although a study that appeared in the journal The Gerontologist found that kids are only right half the time when they try to pick a favored child). When parents overcompensate or make up excuses about favoritism within the family, it can undermine your child’s confidence in his or her perception of reality. Favoritism can also undermine sibling relationships, as the balance of parental approval is uneven.


  • Favoritism is common.
  • Favoritism can be fluid, shifting from one child to another throughout life.
  • Playing favorites (with one consistently favored child especially) can cause long-term damage to your children and family.
  • Signs you’re playing a favorite include how you talk about, act around, and think about your children.

Last reviewed by Eva Benmeleh, PhD. Review Date: September 2020


  1. Psychology Today. The Favorite Child.
  2. The Gerontologist. The Role of Violated Caregiver Preferences in Psychological Well-Being When Older Mothers Need Assistance.


  1. that means i’m not the fave child but u know i already knew that

  2. I’m the youngest and my mom does not go easy on me. She likes my older brothers better. I’m the only girl and I like music, art, dance, acting, and writing but she wants me to become a doctor when I hate needles and seeing people in pain. I’m fine with seeing it on movies but I can’t handle the real life thing. She also dictates my life and my future. She’s never once said she’s proud of me my dad says good job not I’m proud of you or gives me a high five and quickly goes back to what he’s doing. My mom says if I wasn’t born my room would have been her closet. My room is the smallest it’s like a closet compared to my brothers room. They used to share but now they have their own big rooms.

  3. I feel my mother loved all of her 3 daughters and we each have had our day being the black sheep or annoying child, but I think it is safe to say that she enjoys the company of my eldest sister most. They have the most in common personality wise and my sister is very attentive to my mom. Calls her almost every day, sends special cards or notes and little gifts. That being said it is her personality to do those things for her friends and family. What annoys me is she is always playing victim, complaining how hard she has it because she doesn’t have a partner to help pay the bills, or children so she doesn’t get money from the government so my mom gives her money all the time, 2 cars, pays for work to be done on her house, and every time she visits she comes home with a china set or jewelry that was my moms. I can’t help but wonder if she is taking advantage of my mom a bit and her weapon is loving attention or I’m just envious.

  4. My mom favors my sister and her family over my husband and me and our furry child. She would rather spend time with them and not us and gets irritated with us very easy. And is more relaxed and comfortable around my sister and her family then with us.

    1. This can be hard on all people involved. Therapy can sometimes be helpful when processing hurt feelings.

  5. I Knew It ???? My mother played Favoritism. All Of The Statements Here Is Exact How My Mother Treats Me And My siblings

  6. It makes sense that parental favoritism can migrate from one child to another, at times, but it must be very confusing to the kids in the family. Especially the more sensitive or observant children. In my family, I have 2 siblings. A brother that is 1 year and 2 days older and a sister, 31/2 years my junior. We never had to deal with our parents, more specifically my mother, seemingly have a favorite one day and then a different favorite at some other time, saving us from any of that type of confusion. That is because, from birth, there was never any question that she had 1 and 1 only favorite child and that never waivered even right up to the day that my mother lay on her death bed over 40 years later.
    It was less like she had a favorite child and more like she had an only child and 2 other kids i the house.
    I’ll admit that it did suck and I’m sure it had played a small part in my crappy, low self esteem, confidence deficient, anti-social, negative, resentful personality, but with all these flaws, I can’t blame her for not choosing me as her favorite.

  7. I see expectations change so much between siblings. It’s unfair and both should be held to the same standards. If both are capable, they should be treated as equal as possible.

  8. I have never even thought about favoring one of my girls over the other but I think with them being so young I tend to act the same towards both of them. It’s hard to say because I feel that I act and discipline them the same right now but my youngest does tend to get away with a little more just because she doesn’t fully grasp what is right and wrong yet. I will be curious to check these five signs in a couple of years to see if my feelings change at all.

    1. Your comment gave me the “A-ha” moment! After reading the part about lower expectations, I now think my brother was the favorite, or at least most babied… My mind is rocked.


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