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You've seen it before (and maybe even done it yourself) -- parents who pay more attention to, say, a son over a daughter or clearly prefer a younger sibling to an older one. Turns out the whole family is likely to pay if parents play favorites regularly.
A new study published in the journal Child Development finds that when parents treat their kids differently (for example, they're positive with one and negative with another), all the kids are affected -- not just the child who receives negative attention.
Favoring one sibling increased the risk for mental health problems for all kids involved, according to the study. "In all likelihood, this occurred because 'differential' parenting sets up a dynamic that is very divisive," research leader Jennifer M. Jenkins of the University of Toronto, states in a news release.
Another downside is, not surprisingly, sibling rivalry. "Sibling divisiveness is a known result of differential parenting, with lasting effects into adolescence and adulthood," Jenkins told ABC News.
The researchers used reports from mothers, as well as in-home observations of nearly 400 families with kids ranging in age from 2 to 5, on average. Mothers with lots of risk factors (think single parenting, low incomes or abuse in their pasts) were more likely to treat their kids differently.
"Parents don't set out to be horrible to one child versus another," Jenkins told the network. "There are many environmental factors that lead parents to these actions. As parents, we have to be aware of these factors, and not let them affect our parenting."
My sister and I used to constantly badger my mother with the question: "Which one of us do you love best?" Smart lady that she is, she never answered. (Of course, I always knew it was me.)
Now, with two daughters of my own, I'm the one fielding the question at least a few times a week. "I love you both the same," I tell them each time. They seem to accept that -- though they're each quick to add: "Well, I love you best, Mom."