There will be days or even times during the days when your child will want nothing to do with one parent and only be clung to the other. This isn’t because the unwanted parent did something wrong. Toddlers and preschoolers can focus on only one relationship at a time. Sometimes it’s because that favoured parent has spent the entire day with the toddler and your child will continue to want that for the night too. Or the favoured parent was away and your child misses spending time with them. If you are not the favoured parent of the day, just remember –
- Your child has moments of their favourite parent. This does not translate to whom they love more. It’s just their preference in the moment.
- Your child is being verbal about their choice, encourage that. In saying, “you mustn’t say that! It’s rude or hurtful!” you’re telling them to not be open about their feelings.
- This phase isn’t permanent. Children have their own way of favouring one parent over the other depending on what they want: liberties, the common interest that parent shares during play, reading with one, bath with another – it’s just preference without any malice.
- Set boundaries when the favoured parent is away. For example, say, “I know you want mummy right now but she’s at work. Can I help with your clothes?”
- Don’t take it personally. It does sound hurtful when you hear your toddler go, “I don’t want you!”. Try responding with “I feel sad when you say go away / you don’t like me.”
- Whatever you say, ensure it is said with tact rather than drama. No quivering voice or teary eyes. You want to teach your child to be empathetic towards others’ feelings, not feel guilty about having an emotion.
- Try not to snap if you aren not favoured in the moment. Even if the feeling is unpleasant, it’s not your child’s job to affirm you as a parent.
- Spend quality time with your toddler and be consciously present in that moment.
- Divide tasks so your child knows some duties are done by one parent, some by the other, or take turns.
- If you feel anxious, talk to someone about it. Look after yourself – when you are in control of your response, you are better able to deal with the situation of temporary rejection by your toddler.
- Remind yourself of all the things you do well that make your child smile.
- Remember, this is just a phase.
Of course, there are various situations where the dynamics of a family may vary from the traditional one mother and one father – the principles, however, still apply.