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Parental Preference in Toddlers

by Joann MacDonald

Maybe your toddler reaches for Daddy more often and rejects Mom's requests for cuddle time. Maybe she cries when her parent of choice isn't home or bestows dirty looks on the other parent. It's not uncommon for a child to seem to prefer one parent over the other. That sure doesn't make it any less painful if you are the one left out. But, rest assured, just because a toddler favors one parent doesn't mean she loves the other any less.

Love Vs. Favoritism

Clinical psychologist Dr. Ellen Weber Libby, a psychotherapist and the author of "The Favorite Child," says favoritism and love are two different things. Your toddler can love both of her parents and still tend to favor one parent over the other. The word "love" refers to affection, strong loyalty and unwavering devotion, Dr. Libby notes. Displays of favoritism demonstrate only that your little one feels a stronger pull toward one person for one reason or another. Remember, while love endures, your child's choice for favorite parent can change.

Stay The Course

Your toddler might favor the parent who is more permissive -- allowing her to eat her favorite snacks or stay up later than normal. Or, she might prefer to spend time with the parent who regularly cares for her. Dr. Libby says the challenge for parents is to keep from trying to please the child just to sway her preferences. As a parent, you must stay the course, providing the structure, boundaries and rules necessary to help your toddler mature into a socially responsible adult.

Accentuate the Positive

Registered psychologist Jeanne Williams says you can't do much to change your toddler's preference. She cautions that you shouldn't reinforce the favoritism by referring to it aloud. Avoid language like "Daddy's girl" or "I know Mommy's your favorite." This type of speech will only increase the undesirable behavior. Focus on the positive instead. Make nice statements about the left-out parent, like "We are lucky to have such a wonderful family. We all share a lot of love." If your feelings are hurt, let your child know but be careful to avoid speaking with anger. Remind your toddler that you love her no matter what she says about you.

Build Your Relationship

Build on the relationship between your toddler and the shunned parent. If you are the one who is out of favor, spend regular one-on-one time together. Involve your toddler in activities she loves. Play a game that she enjoys or ask her to help you with a daily task like watering the grass or walking the dog. Share the responsibility of disciplining your child so that one parent is not always the bad guy. If all else fails, wait it out. Toddlers go through stages -- the shunned parent now may be the preferred parent tomorrow.

About the Author

Joann MacDonald has been a professional writer for 17 years. She holds a degree in English and a Master of Arts in journalism. For more than 14 years, she was a communications specialist for a large public school system. She has also written for numerous magazines in the Greater Toronto Area. She blogs about thrift store shopping, parenting and vegetarian cooking.

Photo Credits

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