How to Deal With Parents Who Show Differences Among Siblings

by Candice Coleman
Sibling rivalry may occur when families unfairly blame a particular child for a variety of problems.

Sibling rivalry may occur when families unfairly blame a particular child for a variety of problems.

A son's football games are often the backdrop to his sister's dance recitals, and the weekends involve watching her favorite movies or eating her favorite foods. Favoritism can take a toll on the health of the less-favored sibling, and it can create conflicts between siblings that last a lifetime. Knowing how to approach parents who show favoritism toward a child could create a more peaceful dynamic for the whole family.

Look for signs of favoritism. Whether the siblings engaged in sibling rivalry are your grandchildren or the children of your friends, you may be able to change the family dynamic, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. Do the parents often applaud one child but frequently criticize the other? Do punishments between the children seem unfair? Be realistic: only take note of what you see and try not to guess what happens behind closed doors.

Talk to the children one-on-one if you can. Ask the children how they are doing and how things are going with their other sibling. Do the children complain about the treatment they receive? The children may tell you the extent of the favoritism when they are at home.

Find a calm time to speak with the parents about your concerns. If you are related to one of the parents, try talking with that parent alone. Bring notes of any examples of favoritism that you have seen. Try to avoid using judgmental language, says KidsHealth. You might want to say, "I have noticed Jill seems very sad. I noticed last weekend that Jack pushed her down, and when Jill fought back, only she was punished." Give the parents the opportunity to explain themselves.

Share any other concerns you may have about favoritism between the children. You may want to say, "I'm worried that this is going to cause strain between Jack and Jill as they get older." The parents may become defensive or angry. If the conversation gets heated, agree to separate and talk at a later time.

Provide a counter influence in the young child's life. While the parents may or may not take your comments about favoritism to heart, you may be able to soften the impact they have on their child. When you are watching the children, aim for consistency and fairness between them, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.


  • Fair does not necessarily mean "equal," says PBS Kids, a child development site. Older children may get the perk of staying up later than younger children, but this does not necessarily mean that favoritism is at play.
  • The occasional display of favoritism is normal. Frequent displays of favoritism can cause damage. If you notice several incidents in which one child is favored over another, it may be time to speak up.

About the Author

Candice Coleman worked in the public school system as a middle school and high school substitute teacher. In addition to teaching, she is also a tutor for high school and college students.

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