Is there bad blood between you and your siblings? Parental favouritism could be fuelling the feud

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Having a favourite child can affect your peace as a parent.
Having a favourite child can affect your peace as a parent.
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Through no choice of their own, one chid might be born looking like their absent father.

Another may be the spitting image of a beloved late grandparent.

Sometimes, early childhood illness may render one child seeming to need more attention than the other, leading to feelings of neglect and resentment.

“Favouritism is a normal thing and happens all the time," says clinical psychologist Zanele Dlamini.

“It happens when a parent treats one child in a more positive manner than the other.

"It could be in terms of giving more affection and attention to only one child, buying things for them more than the others and making sure that you are spending more time with them to a point that the other children feels that ‘our parents’ love is divided’.”

Sometimes parents aren't even aware of their bias towards one child, says Zanele who explains that there are number of theories in psychology to help us understand what causes parental favouritism.

“The psychodynamic theory, for example, talks about projection by identification, whereby parents can project an unwanted attribute onto another person.

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“Let’s say you are raised by an anxious mother, so they will project that fear into you as they always feel like they have to protect you.

"This means as a result, everything that you as a child do, your parent would want to be involved in.

"In this way the parent is protecting the child, subconsciously.

"In a way when a parent feels like there is a threat to you, they’ll give you more attention, affection, and then maybe the other child in the process feels like ‘okay, I’m not given the same amount of attention'.”

The not so favoured child as a result, develops the sense of resentment to the other, Zanele explains.

“That ‘what makes you better than me to deserve so much attention?’ question starts looming in their head.

"And not only does resentment develop in the process but also rivalry, mistrust and the feelings of anger because when this child envies what the other sibling is getting, there will be a competition and jealousy.”

The child’s personality also contributes, says Zanele.

"Sometimes as a parent you will feel like ‘this one is too feisty’ and then you become drawn to the one who you think gives you more peace, less stress etc.”

Child birth order also contributes to favouritism. “Let’s say maybe this child (the youngest) was born at the time the parent was very struggling financially, some parents can feel that this child added more of a burden.

“Or it could be that the favourite child resembles their favourite late grandmother, so a parent finds themselves too drawn to the child because the child reminds them of a person they had good memories with.

“Sometimes it is also caused by, let’s say, one of the siblings having special needs, like a chronic illness, whereby a parent must always be cautious with them in ensuring that the child is well and that they take their medication in time – this leads to special inseparable bonds.”

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Zanele says that parents should be open to hints when their kids starts telling them that they have a favourite, instead of being defensive.

“Spend more time with your children and have that open line of communication," she advises.

"Be willing to listen to whatever your child says without being defensive, try to process it and understand where the child is coming from. It takes a parent to have that open child communication.”

Because favouritism also comes from children's order of birth, Zanele advises siblings to cultivate a close relationship amongst themselves independently of their parents.

“Understand that as a child you can’t control how your parent is going to relate to you.

"You can only tell her how it is affecting you, but it is her choice to change.

"That is why it is important, more than anything, for siblings to have a close relationship amongst themselves without their parents.

"So offer each other that emotional support. That way, they can be able to express their feelings to their parents collectively.”

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