Are you a biased parent? Parental favouritism explained

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"Favouring one child is not only inevitable but normal." Photo: Getty Images.
"Favouring one child is not only inevitable but normal." Photo: Getty Images.
  • Whether it's your first or last born, having a favourite child is nothing to feel guilty about. 
  • Outright parental favouritism, however, is a different story. 
  • We speak to several local experts who explain what it is and whether or not you're a biased parent. 

If the subject of who your favourite child hasn't come up yet, yours must be an only child household; either that or your children are too young to have picked up on it yet.  

Or it might be something that you're totally unaware of as a parent. 

Favouring one child is not only inevitable but normal, says Educational Psychologist Charlene Wessels. 

"According to research, the majority of parents do have a favourite child, and this is normal. This may be due to the child being your firstborn, or he or she may be an exact reflection of you. Some children may have the same perspectives, behaviours as you that makes it easier for you to favour them," Wessels told Parent24. 

Counselling psychologist Tholinhlanhla Dlamini-Ngcoya believes that it's often the first or the last born child who is considered the favourite in many traditional African families. 

This article is part of the parental favouritism series. Find more articles on the topic here

Explaining further, she says this is "promoted by the fact that in traditional African families a bride (makoti) is not called by her name by her in-laws. She is called by her maiden name (e.g. maDlamini). Once she gets her first child, she is called "mother of Tholinhlanhla (e.g. maka Tholinhlanhla), and that name sticks even after the other children are born". 

And while having a favourite child is one thing, indulging in parental favouritism is another.  

Also read: Don't let your differing discipline styles cause a rift in your marriage

Deliberate or unintentional? 

In many ways, it's exactly what it sounds like, that is, "when parents favour or give more attention to one child above the others," says Dlamini-Ngcoya.

"It is shown by treating that particular child in a special way, spoiling them…. at the expense of other [children]". It's easily something that might slip under the radar, notes Educational Psychologist and Lecturer Andrea Jacobs; in some instances, it's unintentional.

However, this isn't always the case, as favouritism is sometimes deliberate on the part of a parent, Jacobs says.

Whether intended or subconscious, Clinical Psychologist Tsholofelo Jood says that there are several ways favouritism can manifest. If you're wondering if you might be guilty of biased parenting, read through her checklist below: 

Also see: Removing 'good' and 'bad' labels, and giving meaning to child discipline


The child who is favoured is treated with more leniency. 

Unequal distribution of resources 

The favoured child may receive more resources compared to their siblings. These resources include both emotional (attention, affection and positive affirmation) and practical resources (clothing, gadgets etc.)

Unfair mediation of sibling rivalry 

The parent may mediate sibling dynamics in a way that takes sides, using negative bias towards the child who is not the favourite. 

Excessively complimentary to only one child 

The parent may compliment and speak more about one child's accomplishments or desirable characteristics and not the other. 


A parent may compare other kids to the favoured child. 

"Seeking psychological help for parental guidance is important when one can spot red flags," Dlamini-Ngcoya advises. 

It's not always favouritism 

Wessels says that in certain instances, spending more time with one child over another may be due to necessity, such as in the case of younger children needing more care than their older siblings. 

Jood agrees, adding that due to illness or disability, a parent may need to be more supportive of one child; however, this can be misunderstood by the other children as favouritism. 

"It is important in this case to be aware of the child's needs and also foster a neutral parenting stance when it comes to discipline and giving them roles which they can manage. This improves the child's self-mastery, and it also makes the other kids feel that there is equal consideration of their individual needs and the needs of the family," Jood suggests. 


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