Ask Sarah: How to Handle Parental Preference

Is your child going through a phase of only wanting Mommy (or Daddy)? Parenting expert Sarah Rosensweet shares tips on how to build connection AND give yourself grace.

Ask Sarah: How to Handle Parental Preference

Source: Getty

Struggling with tantrums, bedtime boundaries or simply wondering how to raise happy, confident kids? Sarah Rosensweet offers peaceful parenting advice to help families find balance. Have a question for Sarah? Send us an email at Q: What is your advice when your kids prefer one parent over the other? My husband is usually not the preferred parent, which makes it hard on both of us. He feels hurt and I don't get as much of a break.

Dad kissing daughter on the head while he puts her to bed Source: Getty

A: This is certainly hard and at the same time it is very common!

Most young children have a primary attachment figure and a secondary attachment figure and that leads them to prefer one parent over the other. 

It’s really important for your husband to recognize that this is normal and it’s not a reflection on him as a parent or a person. In other words, don’t take it personally.

When a situation inevitably arises in which he feels rejected, he might tell himself, “This is not about me. My child is having a hard time, not giving me a hard time. I am still a good parent.” Giving himself compassion in that moment will help him stay calm and be more effective. 


In the meantime, here’s what I’d suggest:

Look at any ways your partner can build connection with your child. Special time and laughter and roughhousing are great ways to build connection. If you feel that your child and partner do have a good connection, and your partner can put on his “thick skin” and stay loving—forge ahead. 

It’s okay to insist that, for example, it’s daddy's turn to put them to bed. Your child might be upset about this and that’s okay. Resist your urge to go in and ‘rescue’ your child. It’s important to step back and let your partner parent. Leave the house if you have to.

When your child is upset about this new arrangement, your partner can empathize. “I know. You really love it when Mommy puts you to bed. You love Mommy so much and wish she could put you to bed every night. I’m your daddy and I love you too. I am putting you to bed tonight.”

If a meltdown at bedtime seems too daunting, you could start with something smaller during the day. 


Your child will learn that BOTH their parents are there for them when things are hard and not only mom can be a good caretaker. 

You can also play a game that I learned from my mentor, Dr. Laura Markham, called the “You Can’t Get To Mommy” game. The idea is for your child to laugh and work through her big feelings about only ever wanting mommy (or whoever is the preferred parent).

Have the preferred parent sit on the couch or the bed, and have the non-preferred parent in the middle of the room between the child and the preferred parent. Your child needs to dash past the non-preferred parent to get to Mommy while they “try” to “catch” your child but fail to do so.

They will never actually be in the way between your child and Mommy. Be very silly and get the laughs going! 

Need support with other parenting challenges? Our Ask Sarah series covers topics like how to reduce bedtime struggles and how to prepare for playdates.



Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and her 15- and 18-year-old kids. Her 22-year-old son has launched.

Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to “we’ve got this!”

Sarah offers a free course, How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids, so that you can be the parent you want to be. Read more at:  or listen to her top-rated parenting podcast, The Peaceful Parenting Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts!

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