Here’s What You Should Do When Your Child Prefers One Parent

While toddlers can be kings of tantrums and meltdowns, they can also be super sweet and helpful. There’s a lot going on in the minds of those tiny, young humans, and sometimes it can be overwhelming for them and for their parents…particularly when toddlers go through a phase of preferring one parent over the other.

What do you do if you wake up one day and your child, who used to run to you when you got home from work, suddenly wishes you’d leave again?

First of all, remember that this is just a phase, and try (although it may be hard) to realize that it’s not personal. Really, it’s not. In fact, it may even be a good thing.

How can a child rejecting one of his parents be a good thing? It actually shows that your toddler has learned to express his feelings and make (and try to enforce) decisions. It also shows that your child is able to remember things, for example, if he only spends time with one parent, he’ll get more attention.

Also, we’ll say it again: this is only a phase, and it’s not at all uncommon. According to a poll conducted by, “more than 90 percent of mothers and fathers said their child has favored one parent over the other at some point.”

Okay, so now that you’re trying not to take rejection personally, what can you do to win back your child’s favor?

  1. Don’t Give In

    Parents and Children

    If you give in to your toddler’s demands, you’re only setting yourself up for this preferred parent issue to continue indefinitely and for the parent that’s not preferred to give up on spending time with their child. These are both bad outcomes. For example, if your toddler only wants mom to do the diaper changes, dad should insist on stepping in sometimes anyway. It may lead to a meltdown, but your toddler will know that dad is capable and able to take care of him, and dad will feel more involved.

    It’s important to be a united front on this issue. For example, if your toddler says, “I want mommy” you can both say that no, daddy will be staying with you while mommy goes out (or whatever the situation is). You can (and should) acknowledge your child’s feelings and reassure her that she’ll be safe and have fun, but don’t let the child change your decision. Don’t back down. Be on the same team.

  2. Acknowledge Your Toddler’s Feelings

    Your toddler’s feelings are valid. If he spends more time with one parent than the other, he may be experiencing separation anxiety when asked to spend time with the other parent. Let him know that you hear how he feels and that you care. Don’t make him feel bad about his feelings, but let him know that he needs to spend time with the other parent anyway.

  3. Set Aside Time with the Less Preferred Parent

    Whether it’s getting your toddler off to school or daycare in the morning or a parent and me class on the weekend, find a regular time when it’s always just your toddler and the parent they wish to avoid so that the two of them have time to bond. By scheduling the time and making it a consistent thing, your toddler may be less likely to throw a tantrum about it.

  4. Chores

    Decide on certain tasks that are always done by the less prefered parent, bathtime perhaps or reading a story before bed. This way your child can see that both parents are perfectly capable of providing for his needs.

  5. The Preferred Parent Shouldn’t Hover

    There are multiple different parenting styles, and just because you do things one way and your partner does things a different way doesn’t mean that one of you is right and one of you is wrong. If you’re the parent that your child prefers to be with, it might be a good idea to leave the house and leave your child with the less preferred parent. If you’re not there, you can’t hover, and your toddler will see that she can have a good time with her other parent.

If you have children, did they ever go through a phase of preferring one parent over the other? If so, which parent did your children prefer?