What to Do When Your Toddler Doesn’t Want Daddy

It’s tough for the whole family when your toddler wants nothing to do with her dad. Learn why this happens and how to handle it in a positive way.

Toddler Doesn't Want Daddy

“What am I—chopped liver?” my husband joked.

Although he’d always been a hands-on dad, our toddler clearly preferred me over him. After having been away at work, he couldn’t convince our son to so much as pay him any attention. He’d start playing games, but our toddler would refuse. And diaper changes? I was the “lucky” one who had to do them all.

If you find yourself in similar circumstances, rest assured you’re not alone. It’s never easy when your child is rejecting one parent—one feels hurt while the other can’t catch a break.

Thankfully, you can be proactive and make changes instead of waiting and hoping until this phase passes. And more importantly, you can avoid the habits that make it harder for your toddler to rekindle her relationship with her dad. Take a look at these tips to rebuild and reestablish their bond. As one parent said:

“Very helpful. My 19 month old is preferring me over his dad. I’m concerned because I’m 5 months pregnant and won’t be able to tend to all his needs when our baby gets here. Your video reassured me of what we have to do in this stage. Thank you.”
Kimberly Adams

Don’t give in to your toddler’s demands

Those diaper changes my toddler preferred that I—and only I—do for him? That I obliged and changed each diaper was our first big mistake.

You see, giving in to your toddler’s demands reinforces whatever beliefs he might have about his preference. He might think that he was right to ask for you, or that you’re the only one who should be feeding or carrying him.

He’ll also learn that his parents will eventually give in if he continues to have a meltdown each time. While you should pick your battles now and then, you also need to set expectations that throwing a fit doesn’t grant him what he wants.

And finally, giving in doesn’t allow dad to spend time with him. Sure, changing a wailing toddler’s diaper may not be the quality time he had hoped for, but these moments add up.

Yes, it’s easier to cave in and change the diapers yourself, especially if it means avoiding yet another tantrum. But the more dad gets involved, the less likely your toddler will resist him down the line.

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“Hi Nina, I look forward to reading your newsletters when they hit my inbox. They are always so relatable. Thanks for writing this and sharing your personal experiences and wisdom.”

Audrey C.
How to Finally Stop Losing Your Temper

Avoid punishing your toddler for feeling this way

While you don’t want to give in to your toddler’s demands, you also don’t want to punish her for feeling the way she does.

She might be going through developmental changes that surface as separation anxiety. Don’t discourage her from feeling upset or make her feel guilty if she shuns dad. This is simply how she feels and shouldn’t be punished for it.

For instance, don’t take away a beloved toy because she insists on going to the park with you—and only you. Instead, explain that dad is taking her to the park to spend time together.

And describe how she feels, even at this young age. “You’re sad because you wanted to spend time with mommy.” Talk to her about her feelings without trying to rush her through them. These are valid emotions she feels, and the more she knows you support and love her no matter what, the less terrible she’ll feel.

Encourage regular time with dad

I used to work early in the mornings—so early that I was out of the house before our toddler even woke up. This meant my husband handled mornings on his own, from breakfast to preschool drop-offs.

As hectic as it was, this regular time together started to reinforce the idea that his dad and I were both capable of caring for him. He was able to be alone with his dad every day doing regular tasks. They had to spend time together, with no option of pulling me into the mix.

From your toddler’s morning routines to nighttime rituals, encourage regular time between him and his dad. This sends the message that both parents are willing and able to care for him and makes him less likely to resist. For instance, he won’t demand that you change his diaper when dad has been doing it regularly.

And most importantly, he realizes that dad isn’t just “helping out.” Both parents are invested in caring for him, regardless of how many hours he sees each of you in a given day.

If dad truly can’t be around for daily tasks, weekly or weekend outings are also effective. They can start new traditions like going to the farmers market on Sunday mornings or the playground on the weekends. Regular time gives both of them more opportunities to be together.

Stay in the background

You may know exactly how to tuck your toddler in bed, which toy she likes to bring on playdates, and how she likes her pasta cut. But, when dad does it “wrong,” you might feel compelled to step in, get involved, and even correct him for his “mistakes.”

The problem? Hovering and delegating reinforce the belief that you’re in charge, not dad. Your toddler will feel less inclined to spend time with dad if she thinks he has no idea what he’s doing.

Plus, this undermines dad’s capabilities. Sure, he may not do things the way you do them, but this is a partnership. Both parents should be welcome to do things their way, even if it means your toddler resists at first.

Allow dad the opportunity to develop his own routine, however different it may be from yours. Let him learn from experience how your toddler wants to eat and sleep. He might even find a more effective method than yours.

In doing so, both of them feel more confident with each other. Dad is better attuned to your toddler’s needs and doesn’t feel belittled when he does things differently.


The outright rejection when your toddler doesn’t want daddy can take a toll on everyone. Thankfully, this attachment isn’t permanent. Those days when my son preferred me over his dad have long ended, thanks in large part to implementing these tips.

Soon, your toddler will rekindle a strong attachment to dad—and won’t see him as chopped liver anymore.

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  1. Justin Gonzalez says:

    I hope my daughter is just going through a phase. I woke up with my daughter every night to change, feed, and rock her back to sleep. All of a sudden she will let me change her buck only mom can feed and rock her back to sleep. Why is this happening? It hurts. She will still have me carry her all day long but I have been tossed out at night. What can I do?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Justin, it’s really tough when our kids only want one parent, but it truly is a phase and doesn’t say anything of the parent that you are. It might be a logistical thing where she likes how mom rocks her, or she’s simply going through a stage where she wants mom to do certain things for her. Take heart the fact that she still will let you carry her all day long. If need be, you can simply not make it a choice about rocking her back to sleep, if only so that mom can rest. It’ll be rough the first few attempts, but hopefully she’ll also learn that it’s okay if dad rocks her, too 🙂

  2. I am going to seek counseling for this, but am really tired, and (truthfully) hating being a father right now.
    My toddler is 3 1/2, and after so much co-parenting (I was a stay-at-home dad for the first 9 months, and have continued to be very involved since), she strongly prefers her mother over me. Each morning when I get her up, I’m greeted with “where’s mommy?” And frequently, when picking her up from daycare, she wants to know why mommy isn’t getting her. On my good days, I laugh it off, and we do what we need without conflict. But I go through small periods where I feel very resentful. And although I still do the ‘proper’ thing by hugging her, giving her approval, and trying to show love, I am becoming more and more resentful, and feeling isolated. Secondarily, despite trying to keep a good attitude and be social, I don’t feel like many mothers view me as ‘the other parent’, rather than someone equally as capable of parenting as my wife, and this makes me feel isolated.
    My wife is extremely patient and supportive, and although I will continue pushing forward, I understand why many fathers leave their families.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I’m so sorry you’re going through this, Mick, and I’m glad you’re seeking counseling about it. It can definitely wear you down, and I can understand the isolation. Hopefully you find a solution soon <3

  3. M son is 2 months old, and my husband trys to spend time with him, but my sons just cries and call for me the best he can. Is it because I do the majority of care for him?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Cindy! See if you can give your husband more time alone with the baby so that they can both get used to each other. It’s tempting to jump in and just take care of it, but giving them a chance to be together, even if the baby cries, can work out in the end.

    2. It’s completely normal for a baby to feel more attached to mom. Baby is ONLY 2 months old and just spent 9 months inside of you and getting used to the world. Supporting you and helping you together would build the bond better.

  4. This makes it seem like the child’s feelings don’t matter though. There are other ways to bond than diaper changes or “getting involved” with minor things. For my daughter something as simple as just playing with them builds that bond up better.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Play is definitely a big part of building a bond, for sure!

  5. This was very helpful for me to read , about 2 to 3 months after our toddler turned 2, all of a sudden he just completely stopped wanting daddy at all, he would cry and whine and throw tantrums when I would go to work (mind you i only work 3 days a week 4hr shifts and that has not changed ) or to simply just to get out of the house by myself.our pediatrician gave us advice but nothing has worked so far and I feel horrible with this whole situation and foe my husband who is very hurt. He thinks our son just hates him and as for me I’m just so run down from having to do everything for our toddler and home. I hope this works.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I hope you find solutions soon, Britt! It’s definitely rough on everyone when our kids prefer one parent over the other.

  6. My 3 year old is very attached to me because I stay at home with her. But her dad works like 70+ hours a week. Sometimes she only gets to see him in the morning when hes getting ready for work. Even on the weekends. Now she wont give him hugs or kisses before he leaves like she used to and it makes him really upset.

    I dont know what to do. Hes not around enough to take her anywhere. He tries to play with her when he can but lately that hasnt been able to happen.

    Any ideas? We’ve got about an hour in the morning where they are both up.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Christy! I can imagine it’s a frustrating experience for all. On one hand, we want that bond, but on the other, the circumstances we put ourselves in don’t allow for much time to develop that. First thing is to remind him is to be patient if she doesn’t want to hug or kiss him. This is important even if he does see her all day—we have to respect their boundaries. Then, those brief times they are together, I would step aside completely so that he’s alone with her. He can take care of her needs and spend time with her. That way, they get to have one-on-one time—even if it’s brief, at least it’s consistent.

  7. We’re currently in the eye of a storm with our 18m old girl. My wife and I would tuck her in separately until recently, when she suddenly decided only mommy can do it. Now she’ll go hysterical if I try to do it and my wife ends up having to do it all the time. There’s nothing else happening other than that. She still plays with me all the time, gives me hugs and kisses, lets me change her, eats well with me, and has a good time with me during our commute. It’s just the bedtime that’s a nightmare. Any advice?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Rami! I’m not sure why she only prefers mom to tuck her in at bedtime, but try not to cater to it by letting mom do it all the time. This only “confirms” and reinforces that mom should do it all the time and not you. You’ll probably see the same hysterics, but with consistency, she’ll learn that no matter what, you can both tuck her in.

      One thing that might help is to have the same routine no matter which parent tucks her in. Do the same activities in the same manner so that it’s more or less predictable and the same.

      Then, you can also try alternating nights so that it’s also a bit more predictable too. For instance, mom tucks her in tonight, you tuck her in tomorrow, and so forth. That way, there’s a pattern that she can expect instead of saying it’s dad’s turn after a string of several nights when mom was doing it.

      I hope that helps!