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How to Deal With Family and Parental Favoritism

Are you noticing some signs of family favoritism? Don't worry! Read these important tips on how to deal with parental favoritism.

Among all the challenges most families will face it at some point: Your child has decided they prefer one parent over the other. While it’s certainly painful to hear any of your young children tell you to go away because they only want their other parent, it’s also not at all uncommon. 

Children of all ages can show favoritism towards one parent at different times, and for various reasons.1

When your child pushes you away—or clings to you and refuses to let their other parent help—it’s difficult to know how to respond. You may wonder what it says about your family dynamic and parenting skills, or struggle with feeling rejected. In this article, we’ll delve into the causes and effects of family favoritism, and strategies for handling it.

What is Family Favoritism?

Family favoritism can happen between parents and children, siblings, grandparents, or other family members. However, two types of family favoritism are most common:

  • Parental favoritism – When one or both parents have a “golden child” who gets special treatment or praise.
  • Child favoritism – When a child tends to prefer one parent over the other, they may ask for that parent to do everything from tucking them into tying their shoes. Children can display favoritism at any age. Parental preference can be seen anywhere from infancy to teen years.2

The causes and solutions for these two types of favoritism are very different, so in this article, we’ll focus on what you need to know to build a strong parenting plan. This way, you will know what to do regarding child favoritism.

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The Effects of Family Favoritism

When a child has a strong preference for one particular parent over the other, it can leave the unfavored parent feeling hurt, jealous, or inadequate. If your child has pushed you away or told you they love their other parent more, it’s easy to slip into some not-so-helpful coping mechanisms. 

Watch out for these types of behaviors:

  • Trying to win your child over – You may be tempted to play “the good guy” to try to become the preferred parent by giving extra treats, relaxing rules, or overlooking misbehavior.
  • Withdrawing – When we’re hurt, it’s instinctive to withdraw or disconnect. Be careful not to punish your child with consequences for expressing their feelings.
  • Feeling resentment toward the favored parent – It’s not your fault your child favors your partner. It’s also not your partner’s fault. Remember, you and your partner are a team, not competitors.

Why It Happens

The causes of child favoritism vary depending on the family dynamic. However, some common situations that can contribute include:1

  • Spending more time with one parent – Sometimes, favoritism simply comes down to the healthy relationship and familiarity your child has with the parent they spend more time with. This is especially common if one parent stays home and/or does most of the caretaking.
  • Sharing interests or having more in common – Especially in older children and teens, your child may feel they have more in common with one parent. For example, your child may prefer the parent who plays the same sport or has the same hobby. 
  • Identifying with the parent of the same sex – At certain ages, children may favor the parent of the same sex. Researchers have found that parents also tend to identify with and favor children of the same sex, so it’s possible for parents to unconsciously create this dynamic.3

How to Deal With Favoritism as a Parent

Both the favored and the unfavored parent can align on a roadmap for behavior management, and how to respond when a child is playing favorites. 

If you’re the favored parent in this situation, try to: 

  1. Be a good teammate. Be sure you and your partner parent are still working as a team with mutual respect by assessing how you’re sharing duties. Are you the “fun” parent while you let them take on rule enforcement and chore supervision? 
  2. Make room for your partner. When your child pushes for you to do everything, look for a parenting style that allows you to bring your partner in. For example, if your child insists on you putting them to bed every night, try, “I want to hear Dad read this story” or “I’ll be right here, but Mom’s doing the tucking in this time.”
  3. Build up your partner. Let your kids know how much you love their other parent with positive reinforcement. Find opportunities to show affection and comment positively on wonderful things about them: “Wow, Mom’s great at this game!” “Dad makes the best cookies, doesn’t he?” 

Alternatively, if you’re the non-preferred parent, try to: 

  1. Avoid an emotional reaction. If you seem upset when your child says, “I don’t want you. I want Mom,” you may stray away from a healthy relationship by teaching them to feel guilty for their feelings or to hide their feelings to not hurt yours. This should not be seen as a practical parenting skill for teaching positive discipline.1
  2. Show understanding and empathy. This might mean saying, “I know you want them, but it’s my turn this time.” “I know you miss them, but I’m here now.”
  3. Focus on reconnecting. Child favoritism can be a sign that your child feels disconnected from you. If you’re not at home as much as your partner or are less involved with childcare, look for a parenting program that allows for you to be more involved and present when it comes to things like bedtime rituals, caring for boo-boos, and other nurturing activities.
  4. Stick to your boundaries. When you and your partner decide that you’re going to do bath time, even though your child is insisting on your partner, stick to your decision. Be understanding of your child’s feelings, but continue with your plan. With time, your child will feel more secure and experience less stress when they see that routines and boundaries are firm and clear.

Strengthen Your Family Bond With Help From Slumberkins

While child favoritism can be painful, it’s typically a phase that passes. Try to think of this challenge as an opportunity to be a good parent, strengthen your bond with your child, and build your own resilience and empathy.

By staying calm and neutral even as your child pushes you away, you demonstrate good parenting skills and send a powerful and reassuring message: It’s always safe to express your feelings.  

For more help showing your child healthy ways to express big emotions, look to Slumberkins. Our books, Snugglers, and other resources are all designed to support families and provide parenting tips as they learn new emotional skills and build stronger, more loving connections. 


  1. "When children prefer one parent." Janet Lansbury. 
  2. Libby, Ellen. "Is there a favorite parent?" Psychology Today. 29 March, 2010. 
  3. "Do mothers favor daughters and fathers favor sons?" Society of Consumer Psychology. 

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