The Trophy Child: The Effects of Favoritism Among Siblings

· September 11, 2018

The trophy child is a porcelain doll, smiling at the camera. They are also the favorite among all the siblings. They’re an extension of that parent who wants their perfect child to satisfy their emotional needs, fantasies, or unfulfilled desires. Although it may be difficult to recognize within the family, preferential treatment between siblings exists and has consequences.

In our society, we like to think that parents with many children value and love their children equally, without preferences. However, there are several studies that show us that’s not always the case. Preferential treatment in upbringing exists. What’s more, almost 70% of parents admitted that, at some point, they treated one child differently than the rest.

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”

-Jim Valvano-


Doing it once, whether due to age or the different needs of a child, is not a crime. However, the problem is when that bias is excessive and constant. When parents give preferential treatment to one of their children by bestowing praises and attention to them above all others, then we’re facing a phenomenon known as ‘the trophy child’.

Trophy child with their parents.

The trophy child and narcissistic families

The favorite child is not always the oldest nor the youngest. Many experts in child psychology and family dynamics tell us that the relationships between parents and children aren’t stable. They tend to change based on interactions, the age of the children, and other events.

The reason why a trophy child comes about and preferential treatment appears isn’t always clear. Parents (or at least one of them) can see themselves reflected in one of their children and not in others. They can also choose one of them due to their physical characteristics or their abilities. Sometimes it can simply be that one of the children is more manageable than the others. Whatever the case, what should be clear is that this situation isn’t easy for the trophy child either.

Those kids will learn early on that in order to gain a positive consideration from their parents, they must repress their own desires and needs to fit in their parent’s ideal. Therefore, it’s common to guide the trophy child towards a set of objectives, like practicing a sport, playing an instrument, becoming a model, etc.

Trophy child alone.

On the other hand, there’s usually a narcissistic father or mother behind the trophy child. They’re people that make this preferential upbringing their greatest pleasure and obsession. These children are their daily emotional supply. They’re a way of fulfilling desires and unaccomplished goals of the past. The trophy child is forced to achieve these things for their parents in the present.

The narcissistic parent won’t be able to recognize that the child has their own needs and preferences and that they have ignored the rest of the siblings. It’s a complex situation that no child deserves to experience.

The trophy child and siblings: Neglected children alike

When a child is two years old, they begin to have a sense of identity and belonging. That is when the first comparisons appear. “You have this and I don’t”, “You can do this and I can’t”… Jealousy can create battlegrounds between siblings and things get worse when they notice their parent’s favoritism.

All of this can leave a mark from a very early age. When a parent chooses the trophy child, it causes self-esteem and insecurity problems in the other siblings. However, if they’re able to control their resentment, the contradictory emotions, and the bad relationship with their parents, the unprotected child can become a self-confident adult.

It’s important to note once again that the trophy child’s situation isn’t easy either. The preferential treatment they benefit from has a high cost. Oftentimes, it’s the denial of their own life projects. Also, it’s common for them to develop an immature character, low self-esteem, and low tolerance to frustration.

Trophy child playing.

In conclusion, this situation isn’t easy for the overprotected child and their siblings. These situations are the result of a poor, immature, and, in many cases, narcissistic upbringing. Upbringing and education should be balanced, consistent, and respectful to prevent any displacement or favoritism. We should remember that positive consideration also builds our identity.