'I know we're not supposed to have a favourite child, but...': How to keep favouritism in check

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"The experts agree parents should avoid obvious displays of favouritism at all costs, specifically in terms of how much time is spent with each child." Photo: Getty Images.
"The experts agree parents should avoid obvious displays of favouritism at all costs, specifically in terms of how much time is spent with each child." Photo: Getty Images.

Whether a current source of conflict in your family or a long-standing issue, you may at some point have been questioned about which of your children is considered to be the favourite - usually by the child who feels they're not it. 

It's an inevitable topic in any family, and in the case of one anonymous mom, favouring one child over another is something she suspects to be true. 

This is the first in a series on parental favouritism. Find the complete series here

"I know we're not supposed to have a favourite child, but when one child is 'easier' than the other, it can be tempting to want to spend more time and energy on the one... So, I have found myself sometimes picking one over the other to spend time with."

Admitting that the feeling is not exactly a comfortable one, she says it's not something her young children have picked up on yet. And since it's something she's acknowledged, she works hard to keep her favouritism in check. 

Also see: Sibling rivalry: What causes it and how can parents avoid this?

'I seem to prefer one child'

"I have examined my feelings... and realised it stems from a traumatic birth experience and a hard time bonding. This is, of course, not at all the child's fault, so I ensure the children never have to deal with any preferential feelings... As time goes by, I find I feel less and less favouritism, and I'm optimistic that soon I will feel the same about both of them," the mom shared. 

A local dad who also wishes to remain anonymous tells us that he definitely has a favourite child despite wanting to stay neutral and admits that he may have been the favourite child growing up. 

"I do remember my brothers saying my parents didn't discipline me enough and doing it themselves, so maybe I was seen as the favourite and treated accordingly by my siblings."

Just like the mom, he's worked on treating his children fairly as much as possible, but believes the feeling to be natural.

"I do my best not to show it, but suspect it does show from time to time. I do try always to be fair. I think it's probably pretty natural due to people and their relationships."

'It is normal to have biases as human beings'

According to clinical psychologist Tsholofelo Jood, he's not far off the mark. "It is normal to have biases as human beings; parents are not excluded from this notion," she told Parent24. 

Andrea Jacobs, an educational psychologist and lecturer agrees, describing the feeling as "completely normal".  

The topic of the favourite child is also a common one in blended families, says Charlene Wessels, who also practices as an educational psychologist, noting that, "it may occur that parents favour their biological children instead of their step-children". 

While common, the experts agree parents should avoid obvious displays of favouritism at all costs, specifically in terms of how much time is spent with each child; affections, privileges and punishment must also be kept fair.  

"It is not in the best interest of all children (including the favoured child) for parents to act out their biases. Biases have a detrimental effect on family cohesion. Consistency fosters safety in a family; this consistency must also be reflective of how children are treated. Parental biases may undermine the consistency and the structure which parents need to foster for optimal development," Jood says.  

The clinical psychologist also urges parents to take feedback from their children seriously if the topic of favouritism is raised.  

"It may not always be true, but it is important to assess whether there is a blind spot to your parenting. Self-reflective parenting is the key. The parenting journey is complicated and requires one to have these difficult reflective conversations," Jood advises.  

Also read: Are you inadvertently turning your child into a 'paralysed perfectionist'?

Staying neutral 

If you suspect that you may have a favourite, the experts say there are many ways to keep your bias in check. 

Jacobs says individualised quality time will go a long way and suggests parents include activities each child loves during this prioritised time.  

"When parents distribute their time and energy with their children, it makes them feel loved, accepted and fosters positive relationships."

Wessels adds that remaining attentive during quality time is important; this time should be spent "listening to each child and praising each child when necessary", she says.

Additionally, Wessels provides the following tips which parents can use to keep favouritism in check:

  • Be consistent with your discipline approach. 
  • Be very cautious of comparing siblings. 
  • Make use of a one-on-one day where you make a diligent effort to share interests with each child. 
  • Do not ignore it if your child tells you that they feel you are favouring their siblings. 
  • Listen to them and try and improve on the reasons your child may feel this way.


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