Close to half of the respondents to the survey by discount website MyVouchersCode.co.uk reported feeling a stronger bond with the favourite, citing this as a reason for the preferment. Just under a fifth declared they had a favourite because they liked the same things, while14% admitted feeling that way because their other child misbehaved more often.
Having a favourite child is pretty high on any list of parenting taboos. But Dr Patrick Ryan, director of clinical psychology at UL, says all parents have favourites and we should stop beating ourselves up about it. “Parents should be allowed to say ‘Yes, this child is easy at the moment and she’s a favourite’.”
He points out that, as individuals, we gravitate towards some people and away from others. “This is based on personality similarities and differences, on hobbies, on emotional, economic and cultural similarities. Within families, even though we’re related, there’s a continuum of interaction between individuals, which is subject to various influences. At different times, we’ll either be closer or further away from different individuals.”
So, says Ryan, for a parent to expect their relationship with each child to be the same is unrealistic and exhausting. But parents need to be aware, responsible and fair in their relationship with each of their children.
“It’s OK to align yourself more closely with one child over another at any given time. It’s not OK to only align yourself with one child to the detriment of the others.”
Avoid asking why other kids can’t be like the ‘easy one’. “Parents need an individual response for the child who’s easy to get along with and for the one who’s difficult, always remembering the latter’s ‘difficult’ behaviour may have to do with the parent. It’s important to realise all children have something to offer the family.”
Aligning yourself with one child to the point of excluding others can damage both. “The favourite can grow up with an unrealistic expectation of themselves and of other close relationships. Those not favoured can believe there’s something wrong with them.”