Golden Child Syndrome: The Psychology Behind Being the “Favorite” Child

Parents typically don’t have a preference for a favorite child – or so they say. In a narcissistic family dynamic, there’s always a child who holds a special place in their parents’ hearts. Their achievements are celebrated, and their mistakes are forgiven. That’s the golden child. However, it doesn’t take much to turn this idyllic position into something more, giving birth to golden child syndrome.

Golden child syndrome is a term that can be used to describe a family dynamic where one child is preferred or shown favoritism over another. For the child being singled out as the “favorite”, there could be long-term consequences on their mental and emotional development.

In this article, we’re taking a look at the psychology behind golden child syndrome, its signs, how it impacts children, and how to overcome it.

Golden Child Syndrome: What to Know?

The concept of the golden child isn’t a new one. On the surface, the golden child has it all – praise, attention, and support. Their achievements are recognized and their efforts are praised. Their failures, on the other hand, are forgiven or downplayed. This favoritism can lead others to believe that the “favorite” child is spoiled and arrogant.

Beneath the surface of golden child syndrome, there’s a deep sense of insecurity. The favorite child lives with a fear of failure, driven by the pressure to live up to their parents’ expectations. Their self-worth becomes intertwined with their parents’ validation. In the family dynamic, the siblings of the golden child end up becoming scapegoats, blamed for family problems and getting no positive attention.

The favoritism displayed in golden child syndrome can manifest itself in different ways;

Excessive praise and attention
Too much leniency and forgiveness
Unconditional support – even if it means sacrifice

While golden child syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, it’s a term that often pops up in family dynamic research. There isn’t extensive research on this syndrome, but studies on family dynamics and parental behavior offer some valuable insights.

Studies claim that children raised in imbalanced family dynamics – especially where favoritism is concerned – can be more prone to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. This can be due to family pressure to constantly live up to the expectations of their parents or the emotional neglect of their siblings.

Research also indicates that parental narcissism can also impact the golden child syndrome. Narcissistic parents see their children as extensions of themselves and may favor one child over the other, especially when they feel that one child’s performance reflects well on them.

Signs & Symptoms of Golden Child Syndrome

While every family dynamic is different, some common signs can be present that indicate golden child syndrome. Golden child syndrome symptoms can include;

Constantly receiving praise and compliments, even for minor achievements
Mistakes being downplayed or forgiven, while siblings face harsher consequences for the same
Parents compare one child more favorably to another, highlighting strengths more
There’s an immense pressure to excel in every aspect or areas that are valued by the parents
Unable to handle criticism and when offered feedback, taking it personally
Going to extreme lengths to please others, especially those in positions of authority
Experiencing a crippling fear of failure and disappointing parents
Feeling a sense of entitlement, believing they deserve special treatment
Basing self-worth and self-esteem on external validation

Keep in mind that not every child who experiences these symptoms and signs will be experiencing golden child syndrome. However, if several of these signs resonate with you, then it can be a good idea to explore your family dynamics.

The Long-Term Impact of Golden Child Syndrome

While there might be benefits to being the golden child, the preferred baby of the family, this kind of favoritism can have long-term effects on your health and well-being. How? Let’s take a look;

Anxiety & Perfectionism: The constant pressure to live up to the expectations of the family can lead to anxiety, depression, and perfectionism. This can make it harder for you to take healthy risks and pursue your goals and dreams, apart from your parents.
Poor Self-Esteem: If you’re the golden child of the family, then you often rely on external validation for your sense of worth. This can lead to developing poor self-esteem that can be shattered by criticism and failure.
Becoming Codependent: As the preferred child, you might also develop codependent tendencies and behaviors. You might form friendships and relationships where you seek constant approval and validation from others.
Unhealthy Relationships: Golden children can struggle to find and maintain healthy and balanced relationships. They become overly critical of themselves and others or find it hard to set boundaries with their partners.
Loneliness & Isolation: Despite being the favorite child, and receiving attention and praise, golden children can experience deep loneliness and isolate themselves from others as they can’t connect with others on a genuine level. Friends and partners might also find it hard to connect with them because they lack self-esteem and have little to no sense of self.
Resentment Towards Parents: As you mature and step into adulthood, you might begin to resent your parents for all the pressure and emotional manipulation they put you through. This resentment can fester and create deeper wounds which can be harder to heal.
Guilt Towards Siblings: The siblings of golden children often become the scapegoat for the family. Because of this, as the “favorite” child, you might experience feelings of guilt for the advantages you received at the expense of your siblings.

Does Narcissism Impact The “Favorite” Child?

Narcissistic family dynamics are often the place where golden child syndrome occurs. Narcissistic parents play a role in the development of the syndrome and give in to favoritism. So yes, narcissism impacts the “favorite” child.


Narcissistic parents offer unconditional love and approval to the child they choose as their favorite. The child in question receives love only when they meet their parents’ expectations. This creates a foundation for emotional manipulation. While the golden child receives a lot of attention, this attention might not be good for emotional development as narcissistic parents often neglect the child’s needs to focus on their achievements.

Narcissistic parents of the preferred child also put a huge burden on the child’s shoulders, namely – their parents’ happiness and well-being. This kind of burden can be emotionally draining and prevent the child from focusing on their needs.

Moreover, narcissistic parents can’t respect boundaries, which can make it challenging for the golden child to learn how to set healthy boundaries in their future relationships – romantic, platonic, and professional.

How to Deal With Golden Child Syndrome?

Dealing and healing from golden child syndrome is about accepting the problem, seeing your role in it, and taking steps to live your life on your terms. Here are some steps to take to deal with golden child syndrome;

1. Accept Your Experiences

The first thing to do to heal from your experience of being the “favorite” child is to accept the impact of your family dynamic on your well-being and health. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that may have been suppressed in your childhood such as anger, resentment, and sadness.

2. Set Healthy Boundaries

Once you’ve accepted the impact of your experience, work on setting healthy boundaries. Learn to say “NO” to unreasonable requests and focus on your needs, first and foremost. This can include setting boundaries with your parents and siblings too, even if it creates conflicts. Remember, it’s for your own good.

3. Work on Healthy Coping

Next, you need to work on finding healthy ways to manage the stress and difficult emotions that come with being the favorite child. This can include practicing mindfulness, exercising, journaling, or meditating on your experiences.

4. Find Support

Try to surround yourself with friends, family, or a counselor who offers unconditional support and positive regard. And not because they stand to gain something from helping you and taking advantage of you. Having a support system can help you feel validated and understood.

5. Find Your Self-Identity

Most of all, spend time exploring and discovering yourself. What interests you? What are your core values? What are your passions? What brings you joy? Detach yourself from your parents’ expectations and focus on building a life that feels true to you and aligns with your values and beliefs.

6. Work on Forgiveness

While it can be hard to forget and forgive, try. Forgive yourself and your parents. It doesn’t mean condoning their actions, but letting go of the resentment you have in your heart. You’re human and so are your parents. Just because you lived under their expectations, doesn’t make you a bad person. Appreciate the lesson and move on.

7. Seek Professional Help

If you continue to struggle with being the “favorite” child, then don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You can connect with your nearest healthcare provider or click on the links below to find a professional near you. A therapist can help you get the right help and support. They can also offer healthy coping tips to help you deal with golden child syndrome.

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Wrap Up…

Golden child syndrome is a complex experience. However, it’s important to know that healing and dealing with being the favorite child is possible. Accept your experience for what it was, explore yourself, and build a strong support system for yourself. With the above-mentioned strategies, you can overcome the impacts of being the golden child and build a life that’s true to your beliefs.

Did this article help you understand the golden child syndrome and its impact? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Take Care!

The post Golden Child Syndrome: The Psychology Behind Being the “Favorite” Child appeared first on Calm Sage – Your Guide to Mental and Emotional Well-being.

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