Skip to Content

Why do parents prefer the younger sibling?

It’s a common family dynamic that parents seem to favor the younger child over the older one. As the firstborn grows up and takes on more responsibilities, the baby of the family remains cute and dependent for longer, earning more leniency and affection from mom and dad. This apparent parental preference can brew sibling rivalry, but experts say it’s more complicated than favoritism. Here are some reasons why younger siblings appear to be the favored ones.

The younger child is typically less responsible

Firstborn children tend to take on more responsibilities early. As the oldest, they are expected to set an example for their younger siblings. Firstborns usually have more demands placed on them to care for younger siblings, do chores, and overall be the “guinea pigs” for their parents’ first attempts at parenting. The younger siblings then enter the scene with fewer responsibilities and more freedom. “Parents loosen up significantly after they’ve been through the experience of raising a child once,” says family therapist David Spellman. This creates an appearance that the youngest child lives an easier, freer, and thus favored life.

Babying and attachment parenting

Some parents practice “babying” or attachment parenting more with the younger child. Attachment parenting emphasizes extremely responsive, nurturing care in the first few years. Parents may babywear more, breastfeed longer, and be more hesitant to enforce independence with the younger kids. “Parents are simply more laid back, confident and less anxious with the younger siblings,” says psychologist Cecilia Nowak. “This appears as favoritism but is often just a more relaxed parenting style.” The older child perceives being granted more autonomy and independence as a lack of attention and favoritism towards the baby.

The younger child gets away with more

Younger siblings can be masters of getting away with things their older siblings cannot. This may lead to resentment from the older child who had to follow more rules. Several factors contribute to the younger child getting preferential treatment:

  • Parents are tired – Raising young kids is exhausting. By the time the second or third child comes along, parents simply have less energy to enforce rules and be as strict as they were with the firstborn.
  • Parents pick their battles – After one or more kids, parents let go of perfectionism and no longer sweat the small stuff. You might see a parent shrug off a younger child making a mess that would have brought scolding if the older kid did it.
  • Good cop/bad cop roles – The younger child may have more lenient parents, while the older sibling plays the role of a third parent. The younger sees the older as mean, and the parents as nicer.
  • Less supervision – Parents tend to supervise firstborns closely but may be more trusting and grant more unsupervised playtime and freedom to younger kids.

While the youngest may get away with more mischief and rule-breaking, experts say this more relaxed parenting does not mean the parents love them more. Firstborns still get the benefits of more devoted attention in the early months when forming secure attachment is so crucial.

Novelty of the baby

Babies naturally require a lot of care. Being tiny, helpless, and completely dependent makes them especially attention-grabbing. The newness surrounding a baby’s every milestone can make those firsts feel extra exciting for parents. The older child who has already hit those milestones and acts more independently may feel left out of the oohs and ahhs.

This chart shows the amount of time parents spend taking care of babies versus older children:

Child’s Age Average Hours Spent on Childcare Per Week
0-12 months 43.5
1-2 years 40.5
3-5 years 32.5
6-8 years 26
9-12 years 14

Parents pour more time and attention to babies’ care. But this does not necessarily mean they love the older child any less or view the baby as the favorite. Infants simply have greater dependency needs.

Special treatment of the baby is temporary

In most families, any “favoritism” towards the baby of the family is temporary. As the younger sibling grows up, responsibilities and rules tend to even out. And the older child gets to enjoy some privileges the younger ones lack. These include:

  • Getting to stay up later
  • More unsupervised time and independence
  • Getting a cell phone or driving lessons earlier
  • Being trusted to babysit and care for younger siblings
  • More mature, adult-like conversations with parents

The older child has a few years of feeling left out while the new baby needs extra care. But the perks tend to balance out over time in most families.

Tips for reducing sibling jealousy

Parents strive for equal treatment but some jealousy over uneven affection or attention is normal. These tips can help minimize sibling rivalry:

  • Spend one-on-one time – Make special time to connect with each child individually. Even a short walk or reading together signals that each child is valued.
  • Point out privileges – Remind the older child of the freedoms and independence they enjoy that the younger sibling has yet to acquire.
  • Involve in caregiving – Let the older sibling hold, read to, or get the baby’s bottle to make them feel included.
  • Make sure to discipline – Do not allow the younger to get away with frequent misbehavior that would be punished if an older child did it.
  • Acknowledge their feelings – Validate if your older child expresses feeling left out or jealous. Do not shame them for this normal emotion.
  • Share your own experiences – Let your older child know if you ever felt jealous of a younger sibling growing up, and how your parents made you feel included.


While parents may appear to favor the baby of the family at times, most love their children equally. The extensive caretaking babies require makes extra attention necessary during those early years. As both siblings grow up, the family dynamic typically evens out. Setting boundaries while making sure each child feels valued and secure in their relationship with parents can help minimize lasting rivalry. With time, those moments of jealousy often pass and siblings become one another’s closest lifelong allies.