Toddler behaviour

What to do when your child prefers one parent over the other

If your baby prefers Mom to Dad — or vice versa — remember, it's only temporary

By Cheryl Embrett
What to do when your child prefers one parent over the other

When my daughter, Scotia, was a baby, I couldn’t take a bathroom break without her crying inconsolably outside the door. Daddy, on the other hand, got the cold shoulder. While he understood Scotia’s allegiance to me — her stay-at-home parent — he couldn’t help but feel rejected. He even went so far as to put on my bathrobe and pretend to be Mommy.

Children are often preferential in their choice of caregivers during the nine- to 18-month-old stage, says child clinical psychologist Erinn Hawkins. But it doesn’t mean that there’s an attachment problem or that your baby doesn’t like you both. Once our daughter figured out just how much fun Daddy was, for example, I was the one vying for her attention. Here’s how you can play the preference game.

Keep your perspective. Your baby has reasons for preferring a parent change, says Hawkins. He may take the parent who spends more time with him for granted and be drawn to the “newer” parent. Conversely, your baby may favour the primary caregiver who knows the fastest way to soothe him.

Don’t let it create tension with your partner. If you’re the chosen one because you’re home with your baby all day, let your partner take care of his bath time or bedtime. Subtly share any tips beforehand “If you rub the back of Nate’s neck, it’ll help send him off to dreamland.”  Offer encouragement and play down your preferred status.

No sulking or scolding. “Playing favourites is really just a baby’s way of saying ‘I’m my own person,’ and you want to encourage that,” says family therapist Michelle Moreau. “You don’t want to set a precedent of telling your child that what she wants doesn’t matter.”

What if the tables are turned? Is it natural for parents to have a favourite child? >

This article was originally published on Feb 21, 2012

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