From the very beginning, younger siblings are set up to play the comparison game thanks to the benchmarks set by their big brothers or sisters. When the little ones sense they are measuring up and winning parental approval, the bond with their mothers and fathers are strengthened. But if they feel they are falling short of expectations, those relationships suffer. Older siblings, on the other hand, aren’t as affected by perceptions of their parents’ favorite child, according to new research.


The lesson: Youngest children do better when they feel like their parents’ favorite while older children don’t care as much.

“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, a co-author of the study. “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 the study, researchers tracked parents’ treatments of their first- and second-born children in 381 families throughout the course of three years. According to the findings published in Journal of Adolescence, “Analyses revealed that siblings' perceptions of being favored predicted less conflict with and greater warmth from both mothers and fathers, primarily for secondborn adolescents.”

Jensen attributes this to social comparison—aka, the urge to match or beat someone else’s performance, which is something oldest children aren’t as burdened by.

Even though they just examined families with two children, Jensen says he thinks the findings would apply to larger families. “The youngest kid looks up to everybody, the next youngest kid looks up to everyone older than them, and it just kind of goes up the line.”

As for what that means for parents, Jensen suggests focusing on fostering a loving environment rather than worrying about holding each child to the same standards.

“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,’” he says. “If you focus on it being okay to treat them differently because they're different people and have different needs, that's okay.”

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The coronavirus pandemic is setting up our communities for genuine mental health concerns. This may be especially true for new parents. When will 'normal' life return? How will I pay for diapers and baby food? Will my mom be able to help us now? What if my baby or my family get COVID-19? Unfortunately, no one knows the long-term impact or answers just yet.

Most families have built a network of social support by the time they have their first child—if they don't already have a support system, they develop one through various baby classes and groups set up for parents. The creation of the village can be instrumental to the mental health of new parents. Social distancing, the lockdown of cities, and isolation will inadvertently affect the type of support available.

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In fact, it's quite the opposite. Mental strength is what helps kids bounce back from setbacks. It gives them the strength to keep going, even when they're plagued with self-doubt. A strong mental muscle is the key to helping kids reach their greatest potential in life.

But raising a mentally strong kid requires parents to avoid the common yet unhealthy parenting practices that rob kids of mental strength. In my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do, I identify 13 things to avoid if you want to raise a mentally strong kid equipped to tackle life's toughest challenges:

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