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“Mom always liked you best” can affect siblings through life

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Maybe your sister was the cute one, or the most well-behaved. Or maybe your brother, the oldest, was annoyingly brilliant, scoring straight A’s without a sweat.

Whatever the circumstances, it’s easy for siblings in a family to feel like someone is Mom’s favorite. And right or wrong, that perception can affect feelings and behavior that follow them into adult life.

Mother’s Day is this weekend, and a USA Today story explores two new books and some new research devoted to the topic. And it’s interesting to note that the child seen as being the favorite can suffer along with her or his siblings.

"Families don't tend to talk about these issues. They don't explain it and kids are left to their own imagination," says clinical psychologist Laurie Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. " 'I'm not as good as my brother. She likes my sister better.' "

"Ask any family and they'll tell you who was the favorite one," says Jacqueline Plumez, a psychologist in Larchmont, N.Y, told writer Sharon Jayson. "People are very shaped by their family situations and how they were treated. You can be 80 years old and still hurt by it and the parent is long, long dead.”

And those impressions can begin when children are still in infancy. From Psychology Today:

“At the forefront of this work is Judy Dunn, whose pioneering sibling studies are being conducted in her native England and in the United States. Through her observational studies of siblings at home instead of in the lab, Dunn's work presents a radically revised view of children's abilities and their social understanding. Dunn now knows that from the startlingly young age of 1 year, siblings respond to disputes between their siblings by supporting or punishing one of the antagonists. These same young siblings are profoundly affected by their mother's interaction with the other siblings.

"The message is," Dunn said, "that children are far more socially sophisticated than we ever imagined. That little 15-month-old or 17-month-old is watching like a hawk what goes on between her mother and older sibling.

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