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African American mother with mixed race son, parenting

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The way parental favoritism manifests can vary drastically from one household to the next, but what remains the same are the scars such behavior can leave on the children involved.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re the chosen child or not, the perception of unequal treatment has damaging effects for all siblings,” explained Dr. Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., director of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging and author of a study on parental favoritism published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, which found that preferential treatment was linked to middle-aged depression in both favored and unfavored children. “The less favored kids may have ill will toward their mother or preferred sibling, and being the favored child brings resentment from one’s siblings and the added weight of greater parental expectations.”

Parental favoritism, while often easily detected by the children and outside parties, is not always obvious to the offending parent. In many cases, the favoritism is not due to the parent loving one child more than another, but rather a matter of differences in personality.

“It can be very common for a parent to ‘like’ or ‘vibe better’ with one sibling more so than the others,” Michele Levin, family therapist and co-owner of Blueprint Mental Health, told Healthline. “A father who’s interested in sports will likely relate better to a child who’s also into sports, as opposed to a child who prefers the indoors and video games, for example,” Levin explained. “These dynamics can get very complicated.”

Of course, differences in personality don’t absolve a parent of their responsibility to make all of their children feel loved, accepted, and appreciated. The first step to putting a stop to parental favoritism or perceived favoritism is recognizing the signs. Here are several of them.

You don’t enforce rules in a uniform way

While parents would like to believe that they are fair when it comes to enforcement of rules in their homes, this is not always the case. Many parents have a habit of selectively enforcing rules, which can obviously be perceived as a form of favoritism.

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