What do you do when your kid says a specific family member is her favorite?

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IMG_1406 I recently overheard a conversation between a mother and grandmother which boiled down to this, “The kids told me you’re their favorite Grandma — so I told them not to tell their other Grandma!”

I didn’t love this answer, but I realized I have no idea what a good reaction to this kind of situation would be. I don’t expect my kids to like all of their family members the same, but I don’t want them having secret “don’t tell her I like you the most!” talks.

Does anyone have a good diplomatic response when kids say one family member is their favorite? — Nicole

Comments on What do you do when your kid says a specific family member is her favorite?

  1. I think that one way to deal with it is to ask why. Maybe they just spent a weekend with that grandma and she gave them ice cream and played their favourite games and this is a good time to remind them that the other grandma took them to a really fun amusement park not too long ago or has that really cool garden they like to play in. It’s also a good chance to check to be sure that you’re giving your kids equal time with both sides of the family and that everyone who wants it is getting opportunities to be special in the kids’ lives.

  2. I’ve yet to encounter this with my own (still baking) child*, but I’ve handled it with my nephew. When he declares one relative to be his favorite (as compared to another- it’s hard to counter “so and so is my favorite aunt” when there is only one aunt) I’ve maintained a tone of interest with slight conspiracy and respond “Grandma A makes my favorite dolmades, but Grandma B has really fun dogs. I think I like them both very much!” I try not to use responses that are easily pitted against each other but rather apples to oranges. It’s definitly a down and dirty solution without a lot of long term value, but again, I’m “just” the aunt! His mother makes sure to teach him to look for the value in everything. (He hates to eat broccoli, but likes the color that it is!) I think that as kids get older and it’s easier for them to see things with nuance it’s not such a worry.

    *I do have older foster children, but this isn’t really a problem with them. Most of my kids have such abandoment issues that they’re TERRIFIED to say anything bad about their birth families, even to pick a favorite. There is too much fear about losing their love. It’s really sad to think about, but wonderful when you think that your own children are secure enough in the love of their family they can voice their opinions!

  3. You know, I had never really thought about this until one day after I told my son he was my favorite (he’s our only kid) and he squealed, “I AM?!!?”

    I don’t know if he totally gets what the word really means, and in that instance it was just something I said spur of the moment, but it definitely made me pause and reconsider using the word again — I can see how something as small as that could lead to him using it down the line in reference to relatives/friends/etc.

    I don’t have an answer, but I’m definitely thinking about this a lot more after reading this question.

    • That’s a good point! My husband and I often say “you’re my favourite” to one another and I wonder how this will play out with our child. Recently, my husband jokingly followed it up with “for now…” and an ominous stare at my growing belly, which I thought was hilarious, and in some ways true. Maybe we’ll have to watch our language on this one…

    • In my family we always say this: “You’re my favorite daughter,” “you’re my favorite son.” It became a beautiful and long-standing family joke, often with the add-on of, “well, at least in the top ten.” It never confused or upset my brother or I, it was just another way of showing love in my family, and it’s definitely something I want to carry on with my kids.

  4. I had a favourite set of grandparents growing up, and definitely favor some aunts and uncles more than others. Because they were the ones that were there for me most, they remembered birthdays and we stayed over at their houses.

    Favourites are going to happen but maybe you could encourage your child to describe people by what they like about them, rather than just labelling as favourites.

    I like this grandpa because he cooks with me
    I like this aunt because she takes me swimming

  5. I have one brother. My dad thinks it’s so hysterical and clever to call me his “favorite daughter” and my brother his “favorite son”. He still does it even now that we’re all grown up.

  6. I don’t think I ever expressed favoritism towards any relatives verbally, I definitely liked some more than others, which is normal. I still feel that way now, as do many people I know. I guess that parent was just trying to assert that her child could hurt the feelings of her other grandma and she ought not to do that, but also recognized that she can’t make her daughter NOT have favorites.

  7. i feel like the proper response is to respect kids’ opinions (but take them with a grain of salt).

    they might have a really good reason for the preference (as woodlandia says, ask them why). maybe there’s something the non-favorite folks can do better. or maybe it’s flag that the compared person isn’t treating the kid so well.
    in this case, it might be something to actually respond to with action. or it might just be something to recognize as okay – as in, it’s okay that they like person a better, because person b is just not “a kid person” – but that’s not the same as not loving each other.

    they might have a silly reason for the preference (like getting yummy snacks).
    which is fine. and probably means that their “favorite” person changes all the time, which is something they’ll get over as they mature, and start to distinguish between “things that make me really happy right this second” and “things that make me happy”.

    they might not be expressing “favorite” when they say favorite. i think a lot of kids use “favorite” and “super awesome” interchangeably. so grandma 1 can be their favorite, and grandma 2 can be their favorite, too! often in the same sentence.
    which is also fine, but might warrant some explanation (not correction, just clarification – because that kind of enthusiasm is adorable and doesn’t need to be totally squashed).

    overall, i think the most important things are:
    respect kids’ opinions, and ask them questions,
    recognize that it is actually totally okay for them to have favorites (and, for those of us who are not it, put on our big kid pants and suck it up – they’re having opinions, not making referendums on our worth),
    clarify that you can think something is the most awesome ever without it being your “favorite” – or that you don’t have to have a favorite of anything, you can simply have a bunch of things you love without rank instead,
    and laugh – or do something. ’cause if it’s not worth fixing, it’s probably worth laughing about.

  8. I always just liked my mother’s family more than my father’s. And my mother’s brother is basically my favourite person on earth–and always has been. Kids, humans, have favourites. I guess I don’t see the problem.

  9. When I was a kiddo I blurted out in front of all of my aunts that my Aunt M was my favorite. While she was pleased, everyone else wasn’t.
    I liked her simply because she was actually the nicest aunt and she had a really cool pool. The rest picked on me for being the only cousin who couldn’t speak Spanish (my mom’s family is from Mexico). After I declared she was my favorite all my aunts gave me a hard time with comments like “You sure you want ME to make you a burrito and not your FAVORITE aunt?”. UGH big mistake. But I was young and just being honest.
    I would never do that again and in fact I’ve gone back to all of them and told them what I like about each one of them.
    However, I have told my nephew that he is my favorite nephew and always will be. He’s 18 years old now and I assume that my older sister will not have any more kids, and my little sister is 19 years old and I am hoping she just never has a boy. Hoping this never bites me in the butt. >.<
    If my kiddo had a favorite family member, I'd assume there was good reason but still try to help him find something positive about other family members. I'd have to evaluate why he found one to be his favorite over others and maybe do something to adjust it. I'd assume my lil one will favor my parents simply because we do spend so much more time with them (I LOVE my daddy and my little sister just recently went off to college and my older sister lives in Australia, so he's alone a lot, SO SAD!). My husband's parents I don't actively seek to spend time with them, and they travel a lot…soooo…
    But I'll still point out that while his MawMaw & PawPaw spend time with him and are fun to play with, but his Nana and Papa still love him and bring him fun toys and books that he loves.
    There is nothing wrong with having a favorite, but some people will let it hurt their feelings…

  10. I agree with what’s been said so far, but I also think it’s interesting that adults are so sensitive to the fleeting favoritism of kids. Anyone who’s been around kids knows that being their favorite person could be due to something as petty as having given them a cool pencil, or wearing a shirt that they like. It’s not necessarily validating. Sometimes it’s not even in line with one’s own values (like when a kid likes you for something you’re not very proud of, or didn’t intend to do).

  11. I think it’s in poor taste to tell the favorite that they are the favorite. I was raised to keep that kind of stuff to myself. If it’s blurted out accidentally and innocently though, I don’t think it’s a big deal. Relationships are complicated and always changing. Adults should be the bigger people and understand that.

  12. I think having favourites is inevitable, just find a way of teaching tactfulness to your child and that telling someone that they are their favourite (especially around non-favourites!) might end up hurting others.

  13. My plan (we’ll see how it goes) is to say something like, “What’s your favorite thing about (favored person)? What’s your favorite thing about (non-favored person)?” And move along that way, to remind him that he has favorite traits in everyone. Or something.

  14. I don’t have kids yet, but I think if the kid is old/mature enough, have a conversation about how it’s okay to have a favorite, BUT, telling people you have a favorite can result in hurt feelings from those who aren’t the favorite. For kids who are too young to understand that conversation, I would hope that any adults involved would be able to brush it off as a thing little kids say.

    • I agree with Terry, that the best course is to actually discuss how this makes other people feel.

      I think I understand the reason a parent would tell their child to be silent around another person about who their current favourite is as a knee-jerk reaction.

      I am dealing with a mother-in-law who is extremely insecure, and who has spent a huge amount of energy getting my barely verbal child to say her name. The other grandma just plays it cool, so naturally, the baby is all over her and says her name constantly, especially in context.

      She loves both grandmas dearly, but why should she say a name when she has it said for her non-stop in every sentence (further removing the context and giving her no opening to show she can say it).

      So guess who blew a gasket, when baby said my mom’s name. Firstly, she got quiet, then her whole face turned red. Then she looked at me accusingly, like I had been training the kid to say it.

      Unfortunately, it’s not the kids who are problematic in this situation, but the adults who will not “brush it off”.

      This could be one reason a parent asks a child not to mention these things in front of another person who is insecure.

      With a child just learning to speak, I try a few different things. I try to mention the insecure grandmother’s name when she is not present in context, by showing her pictures and describing nice qualities she has. I acknowledge her verbal preference of her other grandma, but also try to downplay it overall.

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