It’s true. Toddlers play favorites! While you may feel like the only parent in the world who’s been snubbed by your little one, it actually happens a lot. It’s incredibly common for a toddler to wake up one morning and decide that they prefer one parent over the other, or vise-versa. One day they’re gazing up at you lovingly, and the next you feel like you’re in high school all over again vying for the attention of the cool kids.
Why Toddlers Play Favorites
Toddlers can play favorites for a variety of reasons. The most obvious are time, attention, and routines. Remember that having daily routines can make a child feel safe and secure, so if mom is the one the child shares most routines with, she may be the default favorite. Sometimes it can be gender or personality specific. Or, maybe they’re just exercising their right to be independent and choose what they want (I want Dada to do it!).
Regardless of the reason for toddler favoritism, it’s important to know how to deal with it.
Tips for Dealing with Toddler Favoritism
Don’t Take it Personally
This is easier said than done. It can feel hurtful to have your child push you out of the bathroom because they want mom to help them brush their teeth. However, this doesn’t mean your child doesn’t love you, or that they’re trying to hurt your feelings. They’re not that emotionally sophisticated yet! They show preference for one parent the same way they show preference for a particular piece of clothing. Just keep in mind that it’s not personal, and it’s temporary.
Don’t Resent Your Partner
Toddlers choose favorites on their own. Chances are your toddler’s internal instinct towards attachment and safety is guiding their favoritism at this point. Your partner is not coaching them or pushing them to behave this way. Even though these acts of favoritism can leave a bitter taste in your mouth, it’s important to work this out together. In addition, remember that toddlers can be more perceptive than you think. If you start acting resentful towards your partner, your toddler may start to pick up on it.
Shoot for Some One-on-One Time
Try to carve out some one-on-one bonding time with your little one. Take a walk. Run errands together. Grab some frozen yogurt. It doesn’t really matter what the activity is, it’s simply about spending more time together.
Share Caretaking Duties
It’s common for one parent to handle the bulk of caretaking duties, such as meals, baths, and bedtime, which can be primetime bonding activities (unless your toddler is throwing a tantrum over eating peas). To help strike more of a balance, try splitting up the caretaking duties or do them together. Spending more time with the unfavored parent in daily routines can help revive the bonding experience.
Support the Unfavored Parent
If you’re the parent who currently gets to be the favorite, remember to speak highly of your partner throughout the day and name drop as much as possible. “Do you know who loves this book? Your momma! I bet she really wants to read it with you when she gets home.”
Don’t Force It
Pushing a toddler to spend time with the unfavored parent can actually make things worse. Remember, throughout this favorite-parent stage, it’s important to do what works, not what you think is right. When you force it, you’ll likely create unnecessary tantrums. The goal is to respond with empathy, understanding, and love. You’ll be there for them when they’re ready.
While it never feels good to be the unfavored parent, remember that your day will come! Children switch up their favorites all the time. Sooner or later, this preference stage will end, and you won’t feel like you’re being ignored by the popular kid in the house. Stay strong and keep keepin’ on!