Family Parenting

Sibling rivalry: parents prefer the youngest

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

It turns out that younger siblings are the parents’ favourite. Here’s the evidence…

Do your children always fight for your love and attention? According to a new study, any sibling but the youngest one is fighting a losing battle.

Researchers from Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life found that if a younger sibling feels like they’re the favourite and their parents agree, then the parent-child relationship is strengthened. If they don’t think they’re the favourite, the opposite happens.

For older siblings, whether they’re considered to be the favourite or not has less of an effect on their relationship with their parents.

Social comparisons

The researchers think this is because of social comparison. Younger siblings place more emphasis on comparing themselves to their older siblings.

“It’s not that first-borns don’t ever think about their siblings and themselves in reference to them,” says BYU School of Family Life assistant professor Alex Jensen. “It’s just not as active of a part of their daily life. My guess is it’s probably rarer that parents will say to an older sibling, ‘Why can’t you be more like your younger sibling?’ It’s more likely to happen the other way around.”

For this study 300 families, each with two teenagers, were looked at. But Jensen believes the results would be similar for larger families.

Dealing with sibling favouritism

As a parent how do you deal with with? Jensen suggests treating your offspring all equally is not necessarily the best approach.

“When parents are more loving and they’re more supportive and consistent with all of the kids, the favouritism tends to not matter as much,” Jensen says. “Some parents feel like ‘I need to treat them the same.’

“What I would say is ‘No you need to treat them fairly, but not equally.’ If you focus on it being okay to treat them differently because they’re different people and have different needs, that’s okay.”

And what of the middle child? They weren’t considered in all this. Maybe next time.