Tips For When Your Child Prefers One Parent Over Another.

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Posted by: Sue Atkins

I was recently asked about this problem on my Parenting Podcast and while this can be quite hurtful if you are the parent who is being excluded, it is helpful to know that this is a phase and it will pass.

Preferring one parent to another, is actually considered healthy development and common among children of all ages & it’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other for a little while! 😊

Sometimes this is due to a change in your parenting roles or circumstances: like a house move, a new job, or a new arrival in your family or a divorce.  During these transitions, you may find that you naturally seem to take on different roles – so who does bedtime changes, who gets breakfast, or who is in charge of the daycare pickup routine.

And sometimes, it’s just because daddy does better more fun bath times, or mummy tells better bedtime stories.

Regardless of the reason, being rejected by your child hurts. But I think if you understand that it’s not personal, is short lived and will pass then you can keep the bigger picture and relax.

Preferring one parent to the other can typically be attributed to the attachment process. The attachment phase begins at birth and continues throughout our lives and it is an important process for your child to learn.

The purpose of attachment is to find one person who provides your child with ultimate support, trust & security. While your child is learning the attachment process, there might be some exclusions of a parent or caregiver. The exclusion of one of you may fluctuate back and forth between you at different times depending on your child’s need to identify with a parent based on different developmental stages and needs.

Sometimes a child’s exclusion of a parent or caregiver may be exacerbated by your behaviour as a parent.  Take a little bit of time to ‘Pause to Ponder’ your roles are parents. Is one parent more fun and relaxed while the other is the main rule setter and disciplinarian?

If so, your child is more likely to attach to the “fun one”– who wouldn’t! Try balancing the ‘good cop/bad cop’ discipline and fun between you and see if that changes anything with the excluded parent.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to survive this awkward stage.

TIPS FOR THE “NON-PREFERRED” PARENT

Manage your own feelings: It’s OK to feel a variety of feelings when your child pushes you away. And, it’s OK to tell your child how you’re feeling (“I feel sad when you tell me to ‘go away!’”). But, share the tears, angry thoughts and hurt feelings with another adult, rather than your child. Don’t blame them or make them feel guilty – it’s your stuff not theirs!

Build connection: If the relationship between you and your child is tense, take time to work on strengthening your bond. Spend quality time one-on-one time with your child on a daily basis. Carve out a regular time each day for 10 minutes playing, reading, chatting or listening to them. Join your child in activities they enjoy. Or create “special” activities that are just for the two of you.

Acknowledge their feelings: There will be times when your child’s other parent is not available to be around. In these moments, start by empathising & understanding their ‘big’ feelings. Acknowledge how they might be feeling – a heard child is an understood child. Then, set a boundary. “I know you wish Daddy could help you. It’s hard when he’s at work and mummy has to help you get dressed instead. Daddy will be back later” Acknowledge their disappointment but don’t panic about it. It’s life. Don’t feel guilty.

Look for the message: As hard as it may be to admit, there may be something to learn from the “preferred parent.” Maybe the songs Daddy sings at bath time are funny, maybe he makes brushing teeth more fun by dancing – maybe he takes the anxiety out of hair washing. Or maybe the little game mum plays to make getting dressed in the morning is more fun & relaxes your little one while they get ready for the day ahead.  Relax, observe and ‘Pause to Ponder’ what perhaps your style is and why it may be more appealing to your child during this phase.

Parenting isn’t a competition – we can all learn from each other!

Stay positive, upbeat and relaxed: It’s easy to get fed up, frustrated or even to start doubting your parenting when your child prefers another caregiver. So, remind yourself that this is a stage & a phase. You are the parent your child needs & loves. Your worth is not defined by your child’s attitude. If you can’t shake the negative feelings, give me a call and we can work it through free from finger pointing or judgement.

Support the “nonpreferred” parent: It’s easy to jump in and “save the day” when your child is calling for you but this can undermine your child’s other parent and that can be a rocky road for your relationship.  Instead of swooping in to rescue, encourage your child’s dependence on their other parent. You can stand close by, go alongside & respond with empathy, and remind your child that they are loved by so many people, including the “nonpreferred” parent.

Never criticise the other parent in front of your child!

Talk about “similar” and “different”: When you are alone with your child, emphasise things that make each of you unique and special.  Chat about the other parent’s strengths. Point out things that you both do well. Perhaps drawing a picture about all the things your child loves about each of you could be useful as  it helps your child focus on what they love about both of you.

Be aware of hurt feelings: Keep in mind that the other parent may be struggling with your close relationship & feel a bit left out. Even though your child’s preference may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the other parent may be feeling jealous, frustrated, or hurt. Put your pride aside and give them time and space to talk openly about their feelings. (Remember, the tables may be turned in the future!)

Keep the bigger picture: As your child is growing and maturing, with time, they will move past this preference and realise that it’s possible to love both of you in unique, different and special ways.

Until then, take a deep breath.

And silently smile when the other parent is chosen to change a dirty nappy!  😊

NEED MORE SUPPORT?

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