Having a favourite child

Measuring love with rulerMany parents are haunted by a guilty sense of having a favourite child.

Sometimes, it's the child who is generally sunnier or more similar to you temperamentally. Sometimes, it's the child whose birth was easier. It's often not the child who is going through a year of colic, reflux and sleeplessness.

Some ages and stages just are nicer, and that differs for every child. And, let's face it, everyone prefers, as this Mumsnetter puts it, "the one that isn't screaming at that particular moment."

If you learn to accept the emotional vicissitudes that are part of all relationships (children included), you may well find you don't have an actual favourite. You have good days and bad days, and times when you are hitting it off better with one child than another. One makes you laugh, another makes you a cup of tea, the third is a squidgy baby. Who can really quantify love?

But if you really do have a favourite child:

  • Don't tell the children. Ever.
  • Do admit it to yourself and explore why you feel that way - if you live in denial, you won't tackle the issue.
  • Find ways of parenting different children equitably. This is easier said than done and it does not mean treating children in exactly the same way as each other (contrary to the beliefs of the children themselves). See our page on Sibling rivalry for more on this.
  • Find ways of spending quality time with the child you find more difficult, doing things you both enjoy. It's easy to get stuck into a cycle of negativity with a child who is being especially challenging. Make a day at the weekend or during the holidays when just the two of you can be together and then carry on making some one-to-one time after that. On the whole people who are loved become more loveable. Work at the relationship and work at showing love.
  • There may be ways of showing physical affection to a prickly child. An unhuggable child may enjoy a head massage - or playing Top Trumps may be as intimate as they want to get.
  • Wait and see what happens. Remember, some relationships flower later than others. The difficult toddler may mutate into a thoughtful and confiding six-year-old, or a sunny teenager.
  • Don't overcompensate so wildly that your other children end up thinking the child you find more difficult is your favourite.
  • If you're really struggling with your feelings and/or you think they may be a result of your own experiences growing up, consider whether some kind of counselling might help.

The bottom line is that displaying favouritism hurts everybody. The long-term effects of feeling like the less-loved child can be profound. And it's not necessarily a blessing to be the favourite child - having too easy a ride may leave you unprepared for real life andor desperate to distance yourself from a parent who is too clingy.

And before you guilt-trip yourself too much, mentally run through this Mumsnetter's scenario: "Tsunami hits: which one do you save? See: you don't really have any favourites."

Dealing with sibling rivalry

new baby older sister

Introducing a new baby



Last updated: over 3 years ago