Does your toddler seem to love one parent more than the other? Is it consistent, or do they play you against each other? And does the shunned parent get upset? As Circle of Moms members share, it can really sting when your toddler won't hug you just because you've been away at work.
Kids play favorites for a variety of reasons – sometimes their bond is strongest with the parent they spend the most time with, while with others it can be the opposite. Sometimes it's gender based ("Daddy’s little girl"), and sometimes parents get pigeon-holed into good cop/bad cop roles. During the toddler years, children are figuring out relationship basics, and while it's normal for them to strike loyalties and preferences, it can also unbalance a family. Here are some tips from Circle of Moms members on how to deal with a family dynamic that's feeling lopsided.
1. Schedule Some One-On-One Time
It's particularly common for a toddler to develop some resentment when one parent is away from home more than the other. But as Circle of Moms member Rachel R. cautions, the spurned parent should not take it personally: "Let the child work through his resentment, and make sure mom is emotionally available when [he] is ready."
One of the ways you can help break down these feelings of resentment is to ensure that your toddler gets some time alone with each parent. For working families, it can't always be equal time, but you know the old saying about quality over quantity, right? Jessica W. suggests one-on-one time wherever you can fit it in: "Even if it's just [some] play in the backyard with a picnic." As she explains, a toddler needs to see himself as his parent's priority before he will be willing to be connect again with her emotionally.
Joy V.'s family has struggled with this dynamic. She found that her daughter "didn't want much to do with her daddy" when he came home from work. The solution has been increasing their time together: "What we did was set aside some special activities for Daddy/daughter... he took her to swim lessons, gave her baths... and sometimes he takes her out on special trips to parks or for ice cream. He did get discouraged often because she would still prefer me, but the last few months she's been much more receptive to him."
2. Take Turns Being The Bad Guy
The parent who doles out most of the discipline is not likely to be the favorite. In Norhuda S.'s family, this was her husband, and she reports that her three-year-old daughter's resulting preference for her over her husband became almost impossible to deal with.
Sharing the responsibility of discipline more equally between them is what has finally started to overcome the favoritism. She and her husband now try to take turns "issuing timeouts to her (when she starts her crankiness) as well as positive rewards.... So far, it has kinda helped. Last night, she snuggled up to her daddy! :)"
3. Don't Give In, But Do Reassure
It's hard to believe that kids as young as one or two can be manipulative. But toddlers are learning what they can and can't get away with, and tend to repeat whatever gets a reaction out of mom and dad. If your toddler's preference for you or for your partner causes one or both of you to react in a big way, whether good or bad, and to pay more attention to him, chances are her will keep up the act.
Circle of Moms member Linda, whose two-year-old son demands that mommy do everything for him, says that giving in to the favoritism only makes it worse: "It is also a way of testing the amount of power they have over you - so don't give in - be firm, and always let them know that you both love them no matter what they do."
Stacey L. also cautions that it's important not to take it personally when your toddler uses cruel words toward you. Both of her kids said mean things to her when they were toddlers: "I knew they were only trying to get a reaction out of me. My suggestion. . . is to reply with, 'that's okay, I still love you.' This lets them know that it does not bother you when they say it and love is unconditional. My kids would actually be upset that I said this back to them because they weren't getting the reaction they wanted."
If you happen to be the favorite parent, and you're struggling with how your child treats your partner, Helen D. has some advice on bringing them closer to Daddy: "When he says [mean things to Daddy] you need to simply say 'Well, I love Daddy very much' and give Daddy a kiss and cuddle and ignore your son until he comes to join in. Most importantly, don't let him get his own way with this."
4. It's a Normal Phase, So Wait It Out
Playing favorites isn't always about true resentment or lack of emotional connection with one parent. Sometimes, it's simply a toddler phase. Amy D. feels it is "completely normal for a child to prefer one parent over the other," and suggests waiting out these behaviors as long as the relationships are both healthy: "My daughter has been glued to her father for the last four months. Although she comes to me to read stories and play games, Daddy has to put to bed, and wherever Daddy goes, she's right there." Daisy D., who is a mom of four and a step mom to an additional four, is another member who reassures that most of the time there is nothing to worry about: "It could be a phase. . . they all do that from time to time."
Julieanna M. recommends patience: "They all go through phases where they either want to be only with Daddy or only Mommy. It's normal, especially if [the child] sees one parent more than the other... Just remember that it really is a phase, and probably soon she'll get through it, and maybe even become a daddy's girl! Just remember that nothing changes over night. It'll take time, no matter what advice you choose to take."
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.