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«FAVOURITE SYNDROME»: family secrets through the eyes of scientists

«FAVOURITE SYNDROME»: family secrets through the eyes of scientists
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Olesya Sekeresh. Generations, 2015


In a family where two, three, or more children are raised, parents have a favourite. However, Mom and Dad will likely never admit it. «Favourite syndrome» is a widespread phenomenon, but understanding its psychological features is not so easy. To open the family secrets, scientific data that were obtained in the course of research on this sensitive topic will help us.




The question «Which of your children do you love more?» is considered incorrect, so it is not often asked. But if it is asked, parents with many children expectantly answer that they love all of them equally. It seems to be a very correct and respectable answer. However, the problem is that often parents are lying. There is always a favorite. But only his presence is a kind of internal family taboo.

The idea itself that some children can be loved more and some less, neither for dad and mom, nor for their children, nor for society, is unacceptable. But life, as it happens, sooner or later, all the secret makes all the hidden things manifest, and some family secrets are brought to the public eye.

Therefore, everyone who grew up among brothers and sisters is well aware of which of the children was everyone’s favourite, who was more adored by the father, and whom the mother treated in a unique way.


Фердинанд Георг Вальдмюллер. Крестьянка с тремя детьми у окна
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller. Young Peasant Woman with Three Children at the Window




Of course, the subject we have touched upon here is quite painful and ambiguous to many people. Therefore, in order not to seem unconvincing and subjective to our reader, we will talk about the «syndrome», relying on scientific research. Namely on the research results, which were conducted by the British analytical company YouGov and published on the IFL Science website.

Scientists set a goal — to find out who precisely of the children for the parental heart «all the loveliest». For this purpose, they anonymously surveyed over 6 thousand users of the most popular UK parenting website, Mumsnet.

Of course, among the respondents were only parents with two or more children. According to the survey results, scientists were able to debunk many myths and confirm some conjectures.




For starters, YouGov staff asked parents a direct question, «Do they have a favourite?» 50% of families responded that they find it horrible and unacceptable to even ask this question. 25% honestly admitted that they do have a favourite among their children. A further survey of these «honest» showed the following…

Among parents with two children, 62% considered the youngest child to be their favourite, 30% preferred the eldest, and 8% decided not to specify to whom exactly. Among dads and moms with three or more children, 43% considered the youngest child to be the favourite, 34% preferred one of the middle children, and the eldest was the favourite of only 19%.

As we can see, in all families, the youngest child is favored more.


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But is it so bad to single out the youngest children, who naturally require more attention and care from adults? It’s not bad if you forget about the psychological problems that parental preferences generate within the family.

Unconscious competition, envy, and even hatred often arise between «favourites» and «outcasts». Here’s what Justine Roberts, founder of the Mumsnet website, says about this problem:


Favoritism is a taboo topic that tends to be glossed over in society, and parents live with the guilt. Therefore, it must be openly acknowledged that many parents favor one child over the rest, and there is no tragedy in it


Of course, the fact that one of the children is a favourite for a parent does not necessarily have to lead to negative consequences. Still, the impact of this phenomenon on the fate of children should not be underestimated because it can become a source of psychological trauma for the child.


Стив Хэнкс. Мир для наших детей
Steve Hanks. The world is for our children




Analyzing the «favourite syndrome», French psychologist Anne Gatsel notes:


We cannot say that we love all our children in the same way — no, we love in different ways. Almost always, the feeling of special closeness and similarity unites a parent with only one child. It depends on childhood memories, family history, and the place we have occupied among siblings


Life — is a complicated thing, and to understand how it works, in fact, never hurts. Therefore, knowledge about the psychological mechanisms on which the relationship between children and parents is based will always be relevant to us. At any rate, we must remember the exquisite advice of François Rabelais:


A child is not a vase to be filled, but a fire to be lit


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