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Are You Sure You Don’t Have a Favorite Child?

Dr. Seth Meyers


If you’re like most parents, you will state with no equivocation that you don’t play favorites. Only terrible parents would ever allow themselves to have a favorite child, right? I’ve also heard my fair share of parents tell me privately that they do have a kinda-favorite child though they are careful to clarify that they would never admit that to their children. While that’s a perfectly good argument, it’s comes with a problem which I’ll get to in a moment.

Parents do want compliance.

I don’t have a favorite child between my two children, but I will be honest and admit that I do appreciate a child who listens to me and respects what I say. So, I will tell my children openly that I will get along with any child who doesn’t fight me or challenge me on the simplest little things. In most families where there are multiple children, there is usually at least one who is easier in a given stage, and there is at least one who is more argumentative or willful.

Favorite child vs. the “easier” child

Parents should never apologize for appreciating a child when the child accepts the care and direction from the parent without much of a hassle. This isn’t the same as saying that the more compliant child is your favorite child; instead, you can say that every kid goes through different stages and that you appreciate any kid when they are respectful and cooperative with you. As your kids become teenagers, you can share your feelings and this can help them learn an important lesson. Say, “Parenting, overall, is amazing but it can be really hard and frustrating when your child goes through a stage where they want to argue about or challenge you on everything.” Go further by saying, “It’s a parent’s job to make sure the child meets all kinds of expectations in school, with hygiene, and so forth. One of the things you, as my child, should ask yourself is whether you show appreciation for the things I do for you.” Prompting your child in this way forces them to think about the other person in the situation – you – when kids have the tendency to focus almost entirely on themselves. Train them to be respectful and to show appreciation for you.

How to make each child feel like a favorite child

One of the best practices parents can engage in with their children is to plan individual time with each child. I remember from my own childhood occasions when my mother would take just me out for lunch on my birthday, and I felt like the most important kid in the world. Parents can practice one-on-time most easily on the weekends. For example, setting up a schedule where, say, every other weekend one parent takes one child and the other parent takes the other child for an activity gives each kid the chance for one-on-one time with the parent. That’s all kids really want: to feel like they are the only one, even though they know they usually have to share the attention with other siblings.

During bedtime chats, tell each child what impresses you about them.

Kids crave praise as much as grownups do, but they crave it even more because they are still developing their sense of self and self-esteem. Bedtime is a great time for an intimate chat with your child. Use that time sometimes to point out something they did that day that was impressive or helpful, and tell them that you see certain strengths in them. For example, say, “When we were working on that project in the yard this morning, I noticed how hard you were working and how careful you were being. I am so lucky to have you as my [insert son or daughter].” Another example: “I have to tell you that you are one of the funniest people I know, and you always make me laugh.” These comments sound simple enough but they make a child feel noticed and unique, and this practice builds strong and lasting self-esteem. Bottom line: It’s a good goal to set, making every child feel like a favorite child.

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Dr. Seth Meyers

Dr. Seth Meyers is a licensed clinical psychologist and author in Los Angeles, California. He specializes in parenting and relationships, and he is trained in multiple evidence-based parenting interventions. Dr. Seth earned his B.A. in psychology from Vassar College and earned his Psy.D. in clinical psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. He appears regularly on television programs, including Good Morning America, 20/20, ABC News, The Doctors, Nancy Grace, Dr. Drew and others. Dr. Seth is the author of Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.