It’s heartbreaking when your child pulls away from you and reaches for another caregiver. Thankfully, there are things you can do to survive this difficult stage. Here are some tips to use when your child prefers one parent over the other (BONUS: suggestions for the “preferred”…and the “non-preferred” parent!)

“No! I want daddy to do it!”

Your 3-year-old has wedged himself between the bed and the dresser. Refusing to let you help him get dressed.

“Daddy’s at work right now. Mommy’s here! I can help you.”

Attempting to get closer, his little hands push you away.

The hurt inside you grows. “What makes dad so special? I’m here with you all day. And this is the thanks I get?”

What are you supposed to do?


It’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other.

Sometimes this is due to a change in the parenting roles: a move, a new job, bedrest, separation. During these transitions, parents may shift who does bedtime, who gets breakfast, or who is in charge of daycare pickup.

Sometimes, a preference comes around the birth of a sibling. One parent cares more for the infant, while the other parent spends more time with the older children.

And sometimes, it’s just because daddy does better bathtimes. Or mommy tells better bedtime stories.

Regardless of the reason, being rejected by your child hurts.

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


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 ‘get away!’”). But, share the big tears, angry thoughts and hurt feelings with another adult, rather than your child.

Build connection: If the relationship between you and your child is strained, take time to work on strengthening your bond. Spendquality time one-on-one time with your child on a daily basis. Join your child in activities they enjoy. Or create “special” activities that are just for the two of you.

Empathize with the struggle: There will be times when the other parent is not available to come to your child’s rescue. In these moments, start by empathizing with their big feelings. Then, set a boundary. “I know you wish daddy could help you. It’s hard when he’s at work and mommy has to help you get dressed instead.”

Look for tips: As hard as it may be to admit, there may be something to learn from the “preferred parent.” Maybe the songs dad sings during bath time take the anxiety out of hair washing. Or the little game mom plays gets him moving in the morning. Stay true to yourself, and see if you can incorporate some of these tips into your parenting too.

Positive Self Talk: It’s easy to get down in the dumps or to start doubting your parenting when your child prefers another caregiver. Remind yourself that this is a stage. That you are the parent your child needs. And, that your worth is not defined by your child’s positive response. If you can’t shake the negative feelings, seek support from a mental health professional or a parent coach.


It’s hard to be pushed away by your child, but being the preferred parent can lead to feelings of helplessness, confusion, and torn between two people.

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