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Babies and toddlers go through phases where they prefer one parent over the other.
While this is a common part of a child’s development, it can be difficult to deal with as a parent.
You may feel angry or hurt and not know how to connect with your child.
To deal with a child’s preference of one parent over another, work on strengthening the bond by spending time with the child, find new ways to interact with your child, and avoid taking out your negative emotions on your child.
Strengthening the Bond
Leave the baby alone with the parent.
When your baby prefers one parent over the other, help by leaving the left out parent alone with the baby.
This helps the baby interact and bond with the other parent without the preferred parent there to distract them.
The parent and baby can move to a separate room or go out together, like to the park.
Encourage the bond between the parents.
If you are the parent your child prefers, help the other parent by talking positively about them.
Your child may take the lead from you and warm up to the other parent when they see that you like them.
For example, you may say, “Your mommy is really good at playing tea party” or “You are lucky to have a dad like yours.
He loves you so much and loves spending time with you.”
Spend time as a family.
To help your child grow closer to both parents, do things together.
Let your child see you both interacting.
If you are together, let them see you show affection towards one another.
If you are not, show them you have a positive relationship.
For example, you can eat meals together or take 15 to 20 minutes to play a game or read a story.
Reassure your child if they won’t stay with the other parent.
Sometimes, a child may not want to stay with the other parent.
If this occurs, reassure your child that they are safe with the other parent and that the other parent loves them very much.
For example, if your child won’t let the other parent tuck them in, tell them, “Your mother/father loves you very much. They would love to tuck you in sometimes.”
If they don’t want you to help them get dressed, tell them, “We are so lucky to be a family.
We all love you so very much.” Then, try distracting the child with a silly face or by playing a game with them.
Determine if one parent does all the disciplinary tasks.
Sometimes, preference comes from how your child interacts with both parents.
If one parent does all the seemingly negative tasks, like discipline, making the child clean up, and enforcing bedtime, the child may be closer to the seemingly less strict parent.
If this happens in your family, share the discipline or “negative” tasks.
That way your child will understand that discipline comes from both parents, and it is not a bad thing.
Share the responsibility of taking care of the child.
If one parent takes care of the child all day, they may develop an attachment for that child.
The child may also bond with the parent who takes care of them more strongly than the parent who doesn’t.
If this is the case, the other parent should take a more active role in taking care of the child.
For example, if one parent works more and doesn’t help with meals, baths, or bedtime, the child may prefer the parent who is around all the time.
To help with this, let the parent who works give the child a bath at night, read them a story, or put them to bed.
Spending More Time with Your Child
Play with your child. If your baby prefers the other parent, try to play with them more.
Instead of putting them in a walker or playpen, or trying to get them to play alone, get down on the floor and play a game with them.
Let the child lead the playing, and follow along with them.
If your child resists playing with you, then you might want to try getting down on the ground a few feet away from them and just playing alone.
Try playing with some Legos or get out a bottle of bubbles and start blowing them.
After a little while, your child may approach you and start playing with you.
If your child is older, watch them as they play and ask if you can join.
You may say something like, “That tea party looks really fun. Can I join?” or “I love swinging.
Can I swing, too?”
Take your child with you.
No matter if your child is a baby or a toddler, you can take them with you when you do things.
Make them your little helper.
Babies will enjoy the stimulation of the new environment you have taken them to, and toddlers will enjoy helping you do grown up things.
For example, you may carry your baby to the mailbox or put them in the stroller when you walk the dog.
Your toddler may enjoy helping you separate laundry or take out the trash.
Let the other parent do certain tasks.
To help your child warm up to the other parent, let them take a hand in some of the parenting tasks.
Let the other parent do things your child really loves, like playing games, reading stories, or eating snacks.
This helps the child connect the things they love with the other parent.
Do something new with your child.
If your child doesn’t prefer you, bond with them by doing something new with them.
This may be helping your child move to solid food, looking at flowers in the spring, going to a museum or science center, or learning a new game.
Make sure to talk to your child during these activities.
The idea is to do something together you both will enjoy and that will help you bond.
Dealing With Negative Emotions
Remind yourself that this is just a phase.
It is common for children to develop a preference for one parent or even an extended family member, such as an aunt or grandparent.
However, this is usually just a phase in your child’s development and it will pass.
Your child’s preference may be related to who they spend the most time with each day.
For example, if one parent stays home all day, then the child may develop a preference for that parent due to being around them more than the other parent.
Avoid taking your frustration out on your baby.
You may be upset because your baby prefers the other parent.
Even though this may be the case, don’t be angry at your child.
It is okay to let your child know you are upset or are hurt.
However, make sure that everything you say and do comes from a place of love.
Children absorb everything at this young age, so reacting with anger or in other ways could have a profound negative effect on them.
This could also negatively affect your relationship and cause a greater rift.
Stay positive and loving towards your child.
Being upset or passive aggressive won’t work on small children.
Keep reminding your child how much you love them.
Avoid emotionally manipulating the child.
Parents who are not preferred by their children may end up making their child feel guilty or bad for preferring one parent.
This can lead to a negative relationship and hurt the child as they grow.
You should also not try to buy your child’s love.
Instead, try to bond with the child and fill their emotional needs like the other parent.
Talk to the other parent.
You shouldn’t try dealing with not being the preferred parent alone.
Talk to the other parent, especially if they are your partner.
This helps you not bottle up your feelings and refrain from feeling resentment.
When you talk to the other parent, you may discover that they feel overwhelmed because the baby is clinging to them and needing their attention constantly.
Children preferring one parent over the other is a common developmental milestone.
This can last for a few weeks to a few months. However, eventually, the child will stop preferring one parent over the other or move on to the next parent.
Keep loving your child and giving them the attention you usually do.
Don’t treat them any differently and your child will eventually come around.
Understanding Your Child’s Needs
Realize preferences are part of your child’s development.
It is common for babies and toddlers to prefer one parent over the other.
This is part of their cognitive and emotional development and shows that they are learning to make their own decisions.
React calmly when your two or three year old prefers one parent over the other.
Preferring the other parent shows that your child feels secure in your relationship.
They know that they will be able to come back to you with the same love and acceptance.
Understand that parents have different roles.
Sometimes, children may prefer one parent over the other because parents play different roles.
Some parents also have different styles that may affect this.
Figure out what your role is with your child and how you can make them more comfortable with you.
For example, some children may prefer one parent for something like playing, but a different one if they are hurt.
Some parents may be more lenient than others, which makes children prefer them under certain circumstances.
Keep the ego in check.
Having a bit of an ego is normal, and it often helps you to make decisions based on how you see yourself and how others see you.
However, if your ego gets out of hand, then it can have a negative effect on you.
By placing your child’s needs first and striving to balance those needs with your ego, you may feel more confident about raising your child.
If you start to feel neglected due to your child’s preference, try to remind yourself that the most important thing is making sure you are meeting your child’s emotional, physical, and mental needs.
Try to focus on how you can be the best parent, not which parent your child prefers.