How to Cope with Toddler Favouritism

Guest Blog by Geraldine Walsh – Award Winning Parent Blogger at Over Heaven’s Hill

We often talk in hushed tones about when a parent favours one child over another. What do we do when a child favours one parent over another? Favouritism by a toddler is very common and can leave the rejected parent feeling neglected, lost and upset.

There was a time when our daughter severely preferred my company over her Dad and she became my shadow. As soon as she started crawling, I continuously heard the gentle scuffle of her knees and palms on the floor as she closely followed behind me. When she learned to walk, she would waddle wherever I went. And now that she has mastered running and shouting, I tend to hear a chorus of “Mommy, wait for me!” anytime I try to leave the room. I don’t mind my ever-fixed shadow being glued to me as I make my way from room to room – despite it being mildly inconvenient at times. What is a challenge is the effect this parental preference has on my husband.

Ironically, our daughter and my husband are the best of friends, and he is her go to play friend. She laughs and plays the most with him. They have games that only they can play together. They have a language that only they understand. She has, however, had numerous meltdowns because I have simply indulged in going to the bathroom on my own or popped out to the shops for all of half an hour. Being left with her Dad is not the problem, it’s more the fact that I have disappeared. Her tantrums and upsets are not a reflection on my husband or his parenting skills but her lack of understanding that I will be back or that I have to go without her on occasion.

Toddlers are not expected to understand their place in the world yet. They are only getting to grips with having a mind of their own. Saying no and lashing out is the biggest control and most overwhelming power they have.

But this is a side of parenting that is not advertised in the “Let’s Have a Baby: Guide to the World”. And in reality we don’t exactly think we will be the snubbed parent. It’s not easy on my husband who is left to deal with the rejection and the tantrums. I’ll be honest, I’ve yet to be snubbed so I can’t exactly relate but can appreciate how he feels when I’m given preferential treatment.

We have spent countless hours talking about this behaviour and how it can be rectified but the truth of the matter is that there is no fix.

Preferring one parent over another is a positive thing.

  • The child feels so connected with you that they feel they can jilt you at any second.
  • It’s a sign of emotional and cognitive growth.
  • It helps them to assert their independence.
  • It encourages decision making skills.

Choosing one parent and rejecting another is not personal and is most likely a phase.

Saying that it’s a phase, it’s not personal and that your child is learning does nothing to appease the discarded party and I completely understand this. How long will this phase last? For us, it lasted two years and gradually reduced over time.

It’s not every interaction and it’s not every day but my husband is usually the parent to be pushed away, the parent to get angry at, and the one who heard no the most from our daughter. In saying that, they have amazing one-on-one days together when I am at work or away with business. On these occasions, she rarely pines after me or even looks for me. In fact when I come home, she doesn’t particularly want to see me on those days and is very hands-on with her Dad. There are times when I am beyond exhausted and she happily and lovingly plays with him and revels in his attention.

These rejection moments are temporary but routinely happen. Despite everything that he tries, she will choose me over him nine times out of ten. The hurt and rejection is real. How does the suffering parent overcome this?

The wonderful experts of the internet have action plans for parents dealing with the preferential parent treatment. Most likely, you do these naturally, as does my husband, with or without success. To bypass rejection and build up the relationship my husband:

  • Gets down on the floor and asks our daughter if he can play with her rather than assuming she would play with him.
  • He tells her he loves her consistently and that he misses her when he’s at work.
  • He gives her space when she wants and needs it.
  • He backs off when she only wants me.
  • He asks her to help him with special tasks like collecting the milk from the gate on a Saturday morning – she always obliges.
  • He has special one on one time with her.

We know things will change. We know there may be a day when I am no longer in favour. But until then, it’s trial and error. Until then, there will be days or even just simple moments when she chooses me over her Dad. As frustrating and upsetting it is, we know it won’t last forever.

And hey, it’s a phase!

Geraldine Walsh