Outline your emotions in a journal beforehand if it helps you plan the conversation. Feelings related to parental favoritism can be complicated and messy. Writing it out can help you get a better handle of what's going on. Try writing a first draft to just “let it out.” Then, a few days later, organize your thoughts to be ready for a conversation.
If you're worried about someone reading it, try hiding it somewhere or ripping it up into tiny unreadable pieces over the recycling bin.
You can also draft a letter if you don't think you can handle discussing it face-to-face.
Choose a good time to talk. Look for a time when your parent is calm and not too distracted with chores or to-do lists. This will help make sure that your parent isn't distracted and can focus on listening to you.
During a long car ride
On a neighborhood walk
While doing a simple chore (like folding laundry) together
Try telling your parents how you feel. Your goal is to communicate your emotions assertively without being aggressive.Use “I” language instead of “you” language to emphasize your emotions. For example, saying “I feel ignored” is better than saying “you're ignoring me.” Here are some examples:
“I feel left out lately. Sometimes I feel like you're so busy taking care of the baby that you don't have enough time for me, but when I try to get attention you yell at me.”
“I feel hurt sometimes when I try to make plans to spend time with you and they get canceled, and then I see you hanging out with Arthur. It makes me feel like I don't matter as much to you.”
“I know that Kaja is going through a rough time lately and I'm glad you're there for her. I don't know if you realized that I'm struggling too. I would like to be able to talk to you about it, but sometimes I worry that you don't have time for me.”
Bring up a few examples if you're brave enough. Sometimes you might not need examples, because labeling your feelings may be enough for them to understand. But if they seem confused or if they ask you to explain, you might bring up an example or two.
“You went to almost all of John's football games last season, but you only attended one of my volleyball games. Why is that?”
“The last time Imani got sick, you were always bringing her food, comforting her, and checking in on her. When I got sick last week, you left me alone. It made me feel like I didn't matter.”
“Lee got to use the car right away when he turned 16. But when I asked, you said no. Did you have a specific reason for that?”
“I saw that you gave Olivia an expensive gaming laptop for her birthday. And on my birthday, you gave me a cheap tablet. I don't mean to be materialistic, but at the same time, I felt let down.”
Ask for what you'd like to happen. Talk about something specific that would help you feel closer to your parent(s). This lets them know how they can try to fix it and it gives them an opportunity to show them how much you care. Propose an idea that could help. Be willing to change the details based on what works for your parents.
“Could you please try to show up to more of my games? I feel so happy knowing you're there to cheer me on.”
“I would like to be closer to you. Maybe we could take more walks in the evening? What do you think?”
“I understand what you mean when you say you're really busy lately. What if I kept you company and helped out when you did chores?”
“If I helped Annie with her homework more often, would that help give you time for your to-do list so there would be time for us to play games sometimes?”
“I agree that Tom's music lessons are good for him and I'm glad he's getting them. Would you be willing to consider getting me martial arts lessons? I'd like to learn something too and I've always loved the idea of getting stronger and more disciplined.”
Step away if things get heated. Maybe your parents will get defensive or you'll get angry. It's hard to have a useful conversation if one or both people are too upset to think straight. If you see this happening, take a break.
If you feel upset by the conversation, then try taking a break and do some deep breathing. Try saying something like, “I will be right back. I just need a few minutes.”
Remember that you can always try again another day if you feel like you weren't able to get your ideas across.
Remember that your parents have to make the decision to change. Sometimes talking about your feelings and/or making a plan is enough for them to change their behavior. Other times it isn't. This typically isn't your fault. The way they react to an honest conversation says how good they are at parenting, now how good you are at being their child.
You can't change other people. You can only control your own behavior.
Sometimes people are willing to change their behavior. If your parent starts treating you more fairly, accept that this is a genuine choice and be willing to start forgiving.
Face and work through your distressing feelings. You may feel sad, ashamed, or angry if one or both of your parents aren't treating you fairly. These feelings are normal, but that doesn't make them permanent, and they don't have to define your life.
“Scapegoating” is when people act like something is your fault even though it isn't. They may even convince you that you're to blame. Remember that you control your behavior, and that other people control their own behavior.
Try visualization exercises. For example, if you think a negative thought about yourself, imagine it written on a balloon. Then picture letting go of the balloon and watching it float away into nothingness.
Deal with anger. Anger is a natural response to a perceived unfair situation. It only becomes toxic when you let it take control. Work on healthy ways to process your anger so it doesn't seep into other aspects of your life.
Work on assertive and non-aggressive phrasing. Think about how your words could affect others and plan accordingly.
Let out anger through exercise, journaling, scribbling on and/or ripping up paper, smashing ice cubes in the bathtub, singing to loud music, or otherwise safely releasing emotion.
Script assertive phrases like “I don't like the way you're treating me” or “If you keep calling me names, I'm going to leave.”
Rebuild your self-esteem. If your parents spend years acting as though your other sibling(s) are smarter, funnier, or more interesting than you, you might start to believe them. Learn to identify self-defeating or critical thoughts and feelings and challenge them wherever possible.
The quickest way to disprove the lie that you have nothing of value to offer is to pursue your hobbies and interests. Work on things that you enjoy and are good at. The more you practice, the more skilled you become.
Provide encouragement for yourself. Every day when you wake, look in the mirror and say, “I have a life worth living and many people like me.”
Surround yourself with friend who care about you. Lean on them for support when you’re feeling blue.
Focus on finding and building healthy relationships. Look for people who respect you and care about you without making demands. These people may be family, friends, or mentors.
Remember, real love is given selflessly, without any expectation of anything in return.
Stay far away from cults, gangs, romantic relationships with much older people, and other unsafe situations. While you might feel like someone finally cares about you, that caring can come with danger and/or toxic baggage.
Don’t blame your sibling for the sins of your parents. Some “less favorite” siblings start seeing their sibling and their parent(s) as part of a conspiracy against them. But your sibling didn't choose the favoritism; your parent(s) did. Don't let bad parental choices poison the relationship.
Your parent(s) chose the favoritism. Your sibling didn't.
If your sibling is old enough to understand what’s going on, talk to them about how your parents are mistreating you. Seek their advice and encourage them to speak up on your behalf.
Being the favorite child has downsides too. The favoritism may impair their social skills and harm their attitude. They may hide or change who they are in order to keep their parents’ approval, which can hurt their sense of identity. Some of them develop guilt or anxiety problems.
Keep your grades up. Children of parents who show favoritism to another child often have a hard time in school. Find a well-lit, quiet place to study. Do all your homework each night, and use a daily planner to schedule time for yourself to review for tests, write essays, and complete important projects ahead of time.
Stay organized. There are many apps available for your phone and tablet to help you better manage your time and keep track of your assignments. The Complete Class Organizer and iHomework are among the best.
Attend all your classes and take notes in each class.
Ask questions when you are confused or don’t understand something.
Identify and deal with depression. Depression is an illness involving low mood, low energy, and difficulty getting ordinary life tasks done. It's a common side effect in kids whose parents treated them poorly relative to their siblings. A common course of treatment will combine antidepressants with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT is a therapeutic method that helps you confront your negative thoughts directly and identify counterexamples to construct a logical case against feelings of depression. The goal is to change your thoughts and coping mechanisms to be more helpful.
Talk to a doctor or counselor if you think you may have signs of depression.
Keep in mind that every relationship is different. Since we’re all unique, nobody relates to any two people in exactly the same way. Sometimes a parent might appear to favor you in some situations and favor a sibling in others. No parent can be perfect, but they should do their best to be fair.
It's normal for parents to treat each child a little differently, because each kid might benefit from a slightly different approach. But systematic and repeated favoritism is definitely a problem.
Carefully consider the circumstances. While sometimes it's favoritism, in other cases differences in treatment are a result of parents adapting to the kid's needs and behavior. Asking yourself a few questions might help you figure out what's really happening here.
Have punishments and privileges been earned? If one kid breaks more rules, they might get punished more. A kid who acts more responsible might get a few more privileges because they've proven they can be trusted. See if the behavior explains (or doesn't explain) the consequences.
Are expectations and privileges age- and ability-appropriate? Older kids might get more freedom and responsibilities because they're ready for it. But if a younger kid reaches the same age with the same skills and is treated very differently, that might signal a problem.
Do the same principles apply to different activities? If one kid has theater performances and one has football games, do parents make an effort to attend both?
Are all kids getting decent access to opportunities? Are all kids getting equal access to opportunities that are appropriate for their skills and interests?
Does one kid have higher needs right now? Circumstances like illnesses, bullying, disabilities, social problems, and other issues might mean that one kid needs more attention for some time. (Of course, parents should still make time for other kids too.)
Recognize when parents play favorites based on kids’ identities. Parents often treat children differently for reasons based solely on qualities that are nobody’s fault. Factors like birth order, genes, gender, and more sometimes lead to bias. Potential reasons include:
Birth order: Firstborn kids might get more attention and praise for being responsible and capable. Younger kids may be treated better because they're seen as needing more attention. Middle kids may be forgotten.
Personality compatibility: Sometimes people just “click” better with each other. While this may happen in every family, it becomes a problem when it turns into overt favoritism.
Genetics: Some parents favor kids who are genetically “theirs” at the expense of stepchildren or adopted children.
Gender: Sometimes parents prefer kids who have the same gender as they do. In a patriarchal society, sons may be treated better than daughters.
Disability: Some parents may respond harshly to kids with disabilities because they're seen as being “too needy” or needing to “toughen up.” Other parents may be kinder to their disabled kids for fear that the kids won't be treated well by the rest of the world.
LGBT+ identity: Prejudicial parents may be crueler to kids who come out as LGBT+.
Keep in mind how parental moods and mental disorders may impact things. Parents may show favoritism when they're under stress (such as during marital or financial problems). Mental disorders sometimes cause dysfunctional thinking that may play into favoritism. Under stress, a parent may act without thinking, not realizing how their behavior is affecting their kids.
Kids who help a stressed parent more may sometimes become the favorite.
Personality disorders can sometimes impact favoritism. Parents with histrionic personality may favor kids who pay more attention or draw attention to them. Narcissistic parents may favor kids who build their ego and reject kids who somehow threaten their ego.
Recognize that parental favoritism is caused by the parents, not the kids. Even if a child is “difficult,” the parent still has the responsibility of treating them fairly and respectfully. The kids aren't to blame for the parent's decision to treat them differently.
Self-blame won't fix it if you're not being treated better. You didn't do anything to deserve this. Even if you've made mistakes, your parent is responsible for their behavior.
Similarly, the “favorite” sibling hasn't done anything to be treated better, nor did they ask for special treatment. This isn't their fault.
Try to consider how your parents see things. How would your parents explain the differences in treatment? Even if you don’t agree with their reasoning, it helps to think about things from their point of view.
Recognize when bad parenting is actually abuse. If your parents are treating you as less important than a sibling or if they are cruel to you in other ways, then this may be abuse. Talk to a trusted adult if any child in the family is being abused. There are lots of different kinds of abuse, which may include:
Emotional abuse: Name-calling, unfair blaming, silent treatment, shaming, ignoring
Neglect: Refusing to provide enough food or clothes, not seeking care when you're sick or injured
Physical abuse: Hitting/kicking/pushing you, restraining you, leaving cuts or bruises on purpose, threatening violence
Sexual abuse: Touching in intimate places, showing you pornography, talking about you in sexual ways, or forcing/convincing you to do sexual acts