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Toddler’s Parental Preference – Why Don’t You Want Me?

toddler's parental preference

Would you believe me if I told you my 2-year-old likes his dad better than me? It’s true even with how cute this picture is! My toddler’s parental preference is all Dad. He behaves better for Dad, calms down faster with him when he’s upset and prefers when Dad does the bedtime routine.

I couldn’t believe it, the first time I peeked on the video monitor and saw him just standing there, letting my husband zip up his sleep sack. No wrestling, no running away, just giggles and standing still. Whose child was this?! Certainly not the same one who fights me like Mike Tyson every other night!

And I’d be lying if I said this didn’t sting sometimes – once, when Logan had an ear infection, I couldn’t get him to stop crying. Jorge, my husband, took over and Logan stopped quickly and even fell asleep. I came out to the living room and cried.

Of course, Logan loves me. We have a secure attachment and a super close bond. He hugs me when he falls, and he tells me “I wuh you, Mommy!” I’m just not his favorite right now, Dada is! But, we still share the bedtime responsibilities and alternate bedtime every other night.

Now, would you believe me if I told you this is super normal? Whether it’s an exhausted mom telling me “I’m the only one who can put my toddler to bed” or her defeated spouse saying, “I try, but she just screams for Mommy through the entire bedtime routine until she comes and takes over”, I hear this all. the. time. And help families work through it, so both parents can share the load.

I’ll talk you through why this happens, and how to find bedtime harmony in your household below.

Why don’t you want me?

Toddlers may not always make a lot of sense, but they do have their reasons. Most importantly, it’s not personal! Here are some reasons why your toddler’s parental preference has your child choosing (demanding) one parent over the other:

  • Your child likes the preferred parent’s discipline, communication, or play style
  • Your toddler shares common interests or personality traits with the preferred parent
  • They spend more time with the preferred parent and feel more comfortable with them
  • They spend less time with the preferred parent and they’re craving connection
  • The preferred parent might be calmer, and more regulated when putting them to bed
  • They know which parent is more likely to give in and which one will hold the boundary
  • They don’t really have a reason and just feel like exerting control #toddler

In my household, I’m pretty sure that Logan prefers his dad because he is calmer, often more regulated in stressful situations, with a more compatible play style. He’s definitely the “fun” parent! He also drives a truck, which is Logan’s favorite thing in the whole world.

OK, but what do I do about my toddler’s parental preference?

See if you can uncover the “why” using the list above – or maybe it’s something not listed. What we are doing here is working to uncover the unmet need. Does your child need more time with the non-preferred parent? More play, more snuggling, more talking? Do they need to feel more in control of their environment? Do they need a calmer, more regulated caregiver so that they can co-regulate before sleep?

Uncovering the “why” and developing a plan before making changes is critical because you’re meeting your child’s needs before setting boundaries. You want your little one to feel safe and secure, so they are more willing to accept the other caregiver.

In almost all instances, dedicated 1:1 time with the non-preferred parent – either during the day or on the weekends – will be helpful in building that relationship back up, as well as giving the preferred parent a much-needed break.

Consider attending an activity with your little one, or just visiting the playground and grabbing lunch on the way home. Help your little one bank some positive memories and associations with both parents, and strengthen that bond.

Working On Your Toddler’s Parental Preference At Bedtime

While you’re working on this, you can also start working on incorporating both parents back into bedtime. Here’s how:

Communicate: there’s no need for surprises, and a little bit of communication goes a long way. Let your kiddo know beforehand that “Mommy and Daddy are going to start taking turns putting you to bed because we both love you so much and want to help you get ready to sleep!”

Validate: If your little one protests at first, that’s ok! They are allowed to have feelings when we make changes. Let them know you see their big feelings – “I see that you feel sad because you want Mommy to do bedtime tonight. I love Mommy too, she is so fun to hang out with!”

Hold the boundary: This is the tough part! But so necessary – “tonight, it is my turn to put you to bed! Mommy will do bedtime tomorrow.” Your little one needs to know that you can be trusted to follow through and that your actions will match your words.

Offer age-appropriate control: “Do you want to wear your firetruck pajamas or your puppy pajamas?” or “which book would you like to read after we get dressed?” This gives your kiddo an opportunity to exert that control and independence they’re wanting without derailing the entire routine. It also provides the opportunity to move on.

Your child may not love this new setup at first. This is normal! No one likes change, but especially not toddlers. However, despite what they may tell you, they also do not want to be in control of everything! It’s actually super overwhelming for children to feel in charge of big, grown-up decisions. Children need boundaries, and when they cannot find the limit they push and search for it because limits and boundaries make them feel safe. With a little bit of patience and a lot of consistency, your little one will begin to understand that both of their parents share the responsibilities of caring for them and they will trust you to mean what you say and follow through.

No matter your toddler’s parental preference, if your child isn’t sleeping, we can help!  Book a free intro call today to learn more and talk about working together to achieve your goals.

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