Playing favourites! What to do when your toddler favours one parent

Posted in Behaviour and Discipline.

Little kids can be fickle monsters – one day they like cheese, the next it’s disgusting. So it’s not surprising when they often prefer one parent over another (and it’s not always the mum). This can be upsetting and challenging for parents, when one is feeling rejected and the other is battling a case of the guilts for being the ‘flavour of the month’ with their toddler. 

But what’s a favoured and rejected parent to do? Here are four top tips for tackling this tricky phase, and always remember, it is just a phase – this too shall pass!

1. Don’t take it personally

According to the experts, it’s incredibly common for young children to have a favourite parent – behaviour which is considered perfectly healthy and normal. Even so, it’s hard not to feel upset if your partner is the ‘chosen one’ and not you, or alternatively, feel guilty or bad for them if you’re the most popular.

It’s important not to get too worked up about it though, because just like the cheese scenario, there is usually (and annoyingly!) no legitimate reason behind their preference. They do not ‘hate’ you!

2. Never react badly

It’s tempting to snap at your child when they’re screaming for their other parent and not you (especially if your partner isn’t available), but this is the worst thing you can do. Being angry, or even showing that you’re upset by crying or withdrawing, will only make the situation harder for both of you now and in the future. Small children are notorious for seeking out attention – good or bad – so try not to give them too much of it and accidentally set yourself up for even more challenging behaviour later.

toddler girl hugging mother's legs

Try not to feel rejected and instead, calmly let them know their request for the other parent has been heard so they know you understand – even if you’re the only one currently available and therefore the only option. It’s also important not to bring incidents up again – for example, if the next day they do want to spend time with you, don’t remind them that they didn’t yesterday.

3. Create alone time with each parent

It can be very challenging for parents when only one is always in demand, and sometimes it seems easier to just give in and let one of you step aside. But this isn’t a good idea because not only is it unfair, but what happens when the favourite isn’t available or is too exhausted (such as when dad is away with work, or mum has a second baby)?

A great way to help toddlers become more comfortable with either parent, is to create special one-on-one time for them with each of you. So if you are the favoured one, be sure to allow your partner to take over some of the things you do with your toddler, and vice versa.

Fun outings and special activities are also a nice way to ease into it if your child is particularly resistant – perhaps the left-out parent could take them for ice-cream, or join them in a fun craft activity. It’s amazing how their attitude changes when they’re having a blast! Creating a schedule is another option to help them feel a sense of routine – for example, Mummy always reads bedtime stories on Wednesdays, or Saturday mornings are for Daddy-daughter dates.

4. Support each other as parents

Although your toddler may be playing favourites, this isn’t a competition, so don’t try and push for their attention or make your partner feel guilty or upset about it either. Avoid resorting to ‘good cop/bad cop’ roles, because this might encourage them to only want to hang out with the one that doesn’t enforce discipline.

Presenting a united, loving front at all times and supporting each other in front of your child is the best way to show them that both Mummy and Daddy are equally important, and equally capable.

Remember to always tell your toddler you love them too – even if you’re not the favourite and you hate their behaviour – and just like many of the other difficult stages small children go through, in time, this phase too will pass.





Get more babyology straight to your inbox