How to Handle a Child Rejecting One Parent

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.

Child Rejecting One ParentWhat do you do when your child rejects one parent?

Whether it’s toward you or your partner, this attachment can cause so much anxiety and frustration in a family. One parent feels rejected 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 toddler went through a phase where he wanted me, and only me. Not his dad nor anyone in our extended family like his aunts and grandma, for that matter.

In hindsight, I can see that the rejection 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. By understanding why this happens, you can turn things around, all while keeping his best interests in mind. Take a look at these tips to get started:

1. Correct the behavior, not your child’s feelings

As frustrating as the situation might be, don’t blame or punish your child for the way she feels. Nor should you “force” her to hug, as this doesn’t teach consent. And avoid saying things like, “Why do you hate Daddy?” or “You’re getting a time out for hitting Daddy!”

Instead, honor her feelings while disciplining the behavior.

You might say, “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.

Free resource: Are your current discipline methods not cutting it? Learn 9 strategies that can help you deal with these challenging behaviors. Imagine transforming your relationship using the tips you’ll learn. Grab your PDF below! You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:

“Just want to say that your emails are such an encouragement toward healthy thinking. I appreciate them. Thank you for what you do.” -Stacey J.

Toddler Discipline Strategies

2. Don’t give it extra attention

Let’s say your toddler is rejecting Mom and that Dad is the preferred parent. Do you talk about how hurt you are or go on about how you can do bath time just as well as Dad? Could you be building resentment and getting upset when he fusses for Dad to tuck him in?

Be mindful of unnecessary attention you could be giving the situation. Sometimes, the best response is matter-of-fact, one with a quick decision and consistent follow through.

By giving it extra attention, you turn it into a “thing” that he now expects. He assumes it’s normal to fight for Dad to give him a sippy cup, or that you’re going to get upset as usual when he prefers that Dad change his 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 throws epic tantrums.

She’ll easily melt down every night because she doesn’t want daddy to tuck her into bed—she wants you. 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.” Either Dad hands her the crackers, or she skips out on snacks.

One thing is clear: you’re still going to keep washing the dishes regardless of her tantrums. Plus, spending time with Dad, however rocky at first, allows both of them to develop a rhythm and flow in their own unique ways.

4. Offer alternatives

How do you validate your child’s feelings while still guiding him to behave properly? Teach alternative ways to respond.

Let’s say he doesn’t want you to hug him. Rather than screaming and crying, tell him that he could say, “No, thank you.” Or perhaps he’s pushing you away. You could ask, “How about a high-five?”

You’re still honoring his feelings while showing other ways to respond besides crying. Now that he knows he can say “no” politely or offer a high-five, he’ll be less likely to go to the limits when he refuses. Even better: you won’t feel so rejected when his refusal is 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.

Let’s say your baby only wants Dad. 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 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 may 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 a parent is rejected and your own child 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 acceptable. 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 parent. 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:

Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab Toddler Discipline below—at no cost to you:

Toddler Discipline Strategies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. Hi Nina, I’m having a hard time trying to be positive about parenting when my son calls me “the worst” or says “I hate you” or “I want daddy. Daddy is better than you.” I wish I could get more support from my husband, but I feel isolated in this struggle.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Jessica, I’m so sorry you’re going through that. Responding to comments like that is a bit of a balance. On one hand, you want to allow him the space to feel what he feels—these are all valid emotions, even if they’re not expressed in the best way. But on the other hand, you also have your boundaries and how you allow others to treat you.

      So, while he can feel frustrated at what you had said or done or told him to do or not do, etc., he doesn’t have to say hurtful things to you. There’s probably a better way to say how he feels. Imagine if he had said that about someone else—we would be quick to correct it, right? The same can be true here. He might prefer daddy, he might be upset, and he’s certainly allowed to feel those things. But he can say it in a different way. Even something like, “I’m mad” or “I don’t like that” can work. Hopefully, in learning different ways to express his frustration, you can both acknowledge how he feels and teach him how to better say them.

  2. I have a daughter who just turned 9 months old. I am a stay at home mom and I feel as though she doesn’t want me and only wants her father. I feel guilty to say this but I wish she wanted me more and I am the main caregiver and do everything in my power to make my daughter happy. But it seems she’s just not interested in me and only wants her daddy. Please send some advice my way.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      It can definitely be rough when it feels like your child only wants your partner, or prefers them over you, despite all the time you spend with her. No shame in admitting that you wish for more attention from her—it’s normal to feel “rejected,” especially as a mom, even though this isn’t what’s happening.