It’s not easy dealing with a child rejecting one parent. Learn 5 out-of-the-box ways to respond when your toddler doesn’t want mom or dad.
What do you do when your child rejects one parent?
She rejects daddy most of the time, refusing to kiss, hug, or cuddle with him. Diaper changes, feedings, and reading books all fall on your shoulders on her insistence. Frequent phrases out of her mouth include “Daddy, go away!” and “No, daddy!” and will occasionally even hit him.
It’s enough to drive both of you nuts.
You have to deal with the tantrums she throws and hardly have time for yourself. Meanwhile, dad wants her love and attention and gets frustrated when he doesn’t receive it. Everyone feels overwhelmed.
Or perhaps it’s the opposite in your household. Your child screams when you pick her up, wiggling to get out of your arms to go to daddy. She runs to him at every chance she gets, and bursts into tears if you try to hold her.
You’ve tried brushing off her behavior, but even other people have noticed and made comments. You’re beyond heartbroken that she strongly prefers him over you, to the point of feeling like a failure of a mother.
When your child is rejecting one parent
Whether it’s you or your partner, your child rejecting one parent can cause so many problems in a family. One parent feels horrible while the other feels overworked and guilty.
So many parents I talked to said that this comes and goes—and I can attest to this. My then-toddler went through a phase where he wanted me, and only me. Not his dad, not his caregiver, and not any other adult, for that matter.
In hindsight, I can see that any behavior he showed during that phase wasn’t permanent. But when you’re in that moment, it’s easy to think that this is how it’s going to be, or you wonder when it’ll ever end.
Yes, you can wait it out, but thankfully, you can also do a few things when your child is overly attached to one parent. Take a look at these tips to get started:
1. Discipline the behavior, not your child’s feelings
You might be so fed up with how your child behaves that you’re considering disciplining and even giving her “punishments.” As frustrating as the situation might be, don’t punish her for the way she feels. Nor should you “force” her to hug, as this doesn’t teach consent.
Instead, honor the feelings while disciplining the behavior. Let’s say she hit her dad because she didn’t want him to take her to the park. Avoid saying things like, “Why do you hate daddy?” or “If you don’t go with daddy, you’re going to go to a time out!”
A healthier approach could be, “I know you’re upset because you want me to take you to the park, but we do not hit other people.” You’re acknowledging how she feels, while also addressing the poor choice she made in hitting dad.
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2. Don’t give it extra attention
How do you respond when your child acts differently with one parent?
Let’s say she’s rejecting you in favor of dad. Do you talk about how hurt you are, or go on about how you can give her a bath just as well as daddy? Could you be building resentment and getting upset when she fusses for dad to tuck her in?
Be mindful of any unnecessary attention you could be giving the situation. Sometimes, the best response is matter-of-fact, one with a quick decision and a consistent follow through.
By giving it extra attention, you turn it into a “thing” that she now expects. She assumes it’s normal to fight for daddy to give her a sippy cup, or that you’re going to get upset as usual when she prefers that he change her diaper.
Instead, treat it nonchalantly, like it’s no big deal. The less fuel there is to fire the issue, the faster it goes away.
3. Avoid bending over backward
It’s tempting to give in to your child, especially when she can throw epic tantrums. She’ll easily melt down every night because she wants you to tuck her into bed, not dad. After what seems like the longest fit you’ve ever seen, you finally relent to doing what she wants.
But do this often enough and the message is clear: she’ll eventually get what she wants.
Instead, avoid bending over backward to meet her unreasonable demands. Let’s say you’re washing the dishes and she wants a snack. She insists that you stop washing the dishes so you can pour her bowl of crackers, even though dad is right there, more than willing and able to do so.
Say, “I’m busy washing the dishes right now, so daddy will get you your snack.” Even if she doesn’t like it, dad should hand her the crackers. Sure, she might cry and even toss the bowl on the floor, but that’s her choice to skip out on snack.
One thing is clear though: you’re still going to keep washing the dishes regardless of her tantrums.
4. Offer alternatives
How do you validate your child’s feelings while still guiding her to behave properly? Teach her alternative ways to respond.
Let’s say she doesn’t want daddy to give her a hug. Rather than screaming and crying, she could say, “No, thank you.” Or perhaps she’s pushing dad away. He could ask, “How about a high-five?”
You’re still honoring her feelings while showing her other ways to respond besides crying. Now that she knows she can say “no” politely or offer a high-five, she’ll be less likely to go to the extremes when she refuses. Even better: dad won’t feel so rejected when her responses are polite.
5. Consider your temperaments
Could your child’s temperament be causing her to reject one parent over the other? This doesn’t mean you’ll forever clash, but you might have to be creative or at least respectful of her needs.
For instance, if she’s more reserved, she could feel overstimulated by you, especially if you’re more talkative and active. Meanwhile, dad could be on the quiet and serious side, which suits her mood just fine. This could explain why she craves the calmer interactions with him over yours.
Again, this doesn’t mean you won’t get along with her—all kids will have quirks and temperaments that clash with ours. But you’ll likely want to change your approach to match her mood. Instead of playing rough and tumble or throwing a dance party, you could read or do crafts.
It’s never easy when your child acts differently with one parent, or flat out doesn’t want to be with you or your partner. While this is a phase that will pass, you could try a few creative ways to help it along.
Avoid giving the issue extra attention than it needs, as this only solidifies her expectations that this behavior is normal. Respond in a matter-of-fact way instead of bending over backward for her unreasonable demands.
Discipline her behavior, not her feelings, so she knows that it’s her actions that need to change. Offer alternatives she can try, from saying “No, thank you” to giving a high-five. And lastly, consider her temperament, finding ways to meet halfway between her personality and yours.
While it may be hard to say exactly what’s driving her behavior, know this: it has nothing to do with you as a mother. You and your partner are doing your best, whether she yells at you to go away or can’t seem to be pried away from your arms.
Get more tips:
- Toddler Rejecting Mom? 5 Powerful Ways to Respond
- What to Do When Your Child Is Overly Attached to One Parent
- 5 Reminders to Tell Yourself When Your Baby Only Wants Dad
- 3-Year-Old Attached to Mom? 6 Mistakes to Avoid
- When Your Child Seems to Ruin Everyone’s Day
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