In case of a blog with 3-4 main categories and each of them have 3-4 sub-categories. To avoid duplicate content should the child categories use rel=canonical to their parent category?

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Neither, just use canonicals on the posts and pages. That way categories and author pages are never duplicate, but even without canonical Google has the ability to establish what is what. I recommend you install something like Yoast SEO. I also recommend you get more familiar with canonical links.

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