Does your toddler seem to prefer one parent over the other? Do they always run to the same parent for cuddles, stories, getting dressed, and baths while desperately refusing the attention of the other?
It can be heart-breaking when favouritism creeps in and creates a lopsided family dynamic. Favouritism is very common, but that doesn’t stop it from hurting the shunned parent. As a parent, we can feel a unique rejection when our child pulls away from us.
Kids play favourites for a variety of reasons. It can be due to a change in environment if a new sibling has arrived, or if there is a shift in parenting roles with a new job, a move, or separation. It may even be simply because Mum is better at bath time or Dad is better at reading stories. In general, favouritism is a healthy developmental stage associated with attachment for toddlers and pre-schoolers.
It is a sign of emotional and cognitive growth, which shows they are exploring relationships and learning to assert their independence. In fact, it encourages children’s decision-making skills. It is not a reason to doubt your parenting, or whether your child loves you. They are simply testing boundaries and maintaining their comforts and routines.
How to Manage Favouritism
This phase can be hard. There are a few things you can do to make it easier.
Try not to take it personally.
It’s ok to feel hurt when a child rejects you but remember, favouritism is not personal. It’s important to share your feelings with your partner who can support you in building a bond with your child.
Avoid reacting negatively.
The child is not trying to hurt you but rather control their situation. Calmly let them know you understand by empathising and alleviate the situation by explaining Daddy is busy, but Mammy can help.
Find a unique way to bond.
Encourage your child to help you with special tasks such as walking the dog or getting the newspaper. Reinforcing your bond with your child is a positive way to counter favouritism.
Make sure you each get one-on-one time.
Ensure both parents have one-on-one time with the child to encourage connection. Play games your child loves and go places your child enjoys, such as the beach, together.
Schedule family time.
Engaging all members of the family together can encourage your child’s attention to the less favoured parent.
It's a phase.
Remind yourself this is a phase and you are doing a good job as a parent.