Toddler Rejecting Mom? 5 Ways to Respond

Is your toddler rejecting mom or overly attached to one parent? Learn 5 ways to respond when your child wants nothing to do with you.

Toddler Rejecting MomYou can’t help but feel a little jealous. Okay, a lot jealous.

Your toddler seems to love her dad and all but ignores you. She gets excited when Daddy comes home (and of course cries when he leaves). She can go the whole day saying “Daddy…” Never mind that you’re the primary caregiver and spend so much time with her, from getting up with her every night to giving her all her meals and baths.

She screams and cries when you pick her up, reaching for dad instead. She throws herself away from you as if struggling to get free from your arms. Trying to comfort her when she’s sad or hurt means endless screaming. And if you try to read bedtime stories when dad is around, she loses it and freaks out crying.

You love the fact that she’s excited about your partner, but let’s face it: you feel like you might as well not exist. So yeah, a lot jealous.

How to respond to your toddler rejecting mom

It’s easy to feel disappointment when a young child rejects a parent, but somehow more so when it’s mommy who’s turned down. After all, we hear so much about mothers’ instincts and the bond between mom and child. Any time you feel like you don’t hold up that model image of parenthood feels like you’ve failed somehow.

Even if you “know” that this shouldn’t matter, hurtful feelings still course through you any time your child prefers other people over you. You don’t know how to respond, and you end up trying to laugh it off with others. Meanwhile, you feel like you’re doing something wrong to warrant that kind of behavior.

What can you do to avoid the tension that you’re not your toddler’s favorite and build a fun relationship with her instead? Take a look at these five powerful ways to respond. As these parents said about the article:

“This is THE most helpful article I have read about this issue. I experience this weekly with my son. It is very saddening, but I will try to keep these techniques at the forefront, and steam ahead with a smile. Thank you!!!” -Leila Dash

“I just wanted to thank you for this article. I honestly felt low and ashamed for feeling so hurt by my toddler pushing me away in favor of my mother-in-law. I think your observations and advice are really helpful and helped me gain perspective. Just the fact that these articles exist makes me feel less isolated. Thank you.” -Lauren

1. Focus on playing

If you’re like me, you don’t always feel inclined to be silly and playful. You’re not exactly excited about kicking a soccer ball in the yard or pushing your child on a swing.

But sometimes, this is exactly what kids need to feel connected with others. And if dad is the only one willing to do this with him, he likely wants to spend more time with him and associates him as the “fun parent.”

So, try it out. Be nonsensical—idiotic, even. Make funny faces and act like a goofball. Get him to start bath time by chasing him to the bathroom, and see his antics not as a hassle to deal with but as hilarious or whimsical. The more you focus on playing, the more he can warm up to you.

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2. Do chores after your toddler is asleep

Normally, I’m a fan of doing chores while the kids are awake. You don’t feel overwhelmed and crammed for time, and they can participate and help with household tasks.

But sometimes, this is all we do all day. And for good reason—that stove isn’t going to wipe itself clean of oil splatters, and the laundry might wrinkle if left too long. Except if we focus too much on mundane tasks, then we don’t get to simply be with our kids and relish that special time with them.

And if dad is more comfortable sitting and playing with your child, then this can understandably make him the favorite parent.

For now, save the chores for after your toddler is asleep. Don’t obsess about the pile of dishes or the clutter in the bedroom. Spend time playing with her, observe her actions, and enjoy her presence, no matter the circumstances.

Even better: build predictable routines into your days or weeks where you’re able to snuggle alone. Maybe you read bedtime books at the end of the night or take her to the weekly farmers market. Let this be part of your daily and weekly routine so that she has something positive to look forward to that’s solely with you.

Learn how to handle a child rejecting one parent.

Child Rejecting One Parent

3. Don’t ask for affection

We’ve all heard (or even experienced) the “needy” partner. The one who needs you to make him feel better about himself or to be constantly affirmed of your love and affection. And we all know how pleasant those relationships go, right?

Well, you might say the same about your behavior with your toddler.

Are you asking for (or even demanding) his affection? If so, it’s no surprise that the more you need it, the more he pushes away. No one likes to feel responsible for how others feel. Avoid tying your happiness, and especially your identity, with his preference for you or not.

So, don’t act sad or hurt when he doesn’t shower you with affection. Treat it as the way it is, and know that he always loves you no matter what. And eventually, his affection will come with time—the less you “need” him to feel happy, the more willingly he can return reciprocate.

Rediscovering Yourself After Motherhood

4. Make the most of it

One of the most productive ways to respond to a toddler rejecting mom is to make the most of it.

Does she want your partner to feed her dinner? Great! That’s your chance to finally eat your meal uninterrupted. Does she fuss for dad to play with her instead of you? Use that time for yourself. Rather than seeing it as your child’s rejection, see it as a way for her to spend more time with other adults.

Every problem presents an opportunity if you see it differently. An upside to making the most of it? Your toddler can see a change in you and will likely respond to your affection in a positive way.

How to Make Time for Yourself

5. Remember that this is a phase

Kids can go through many phases that, in hindsight, come and go. But when you’re right in the thick of it, this phase can feel anything but quick. It can feel like it had been going on forever—and it doesn’t help when it seems like you’ve tried just about everything with no luck.

That’s why I want to invite you to see this phase compared to your toddler’s entire childhood. Picture her at 10 years old—seems like ages away, right? Then, can you imagine her still kicking and screaming because she only wants dad to play with her? Highly unlikely.

Remember that, in the grand scheme of things, this is a phase that will go away, all on its own. However hard it is to experience it at the moment, rest assured that this is temporary.

Baby Only Wants Dad


It’s never easy dealing with a toddler rejecting mom. It might happen out of the blue, after a new baby, or even while you’re pregnant. One thing’s for sure: he wants nothing to do with you. How can you respond when you feel like the excluded parent?

To start, focus on playing and engaging with him in a fun, even nonsensical way. Do chores after he’s asleep so you have a chance to be present with him when he’s awake. Don’t ask for his affection or attach how you feel about yourself to whether he has a strong preference for you or not.

If anything, make the most of it and see this as an opportunity for other things, like time to yourself or a chance for him to develop a close bond with dad. And finally, remember that this is a phase that will pass. Even if he doesn’t want mom right now, he won’t feel this way forever.

No more feeling jealous, friend—whether he runs into your arms or not.

Pregnancy with a Toddler

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  1. Leila Dash says:

    This is THE most helpful article I have read about this issue. I experience this weekly with my son. It is very saddening, but I will try to keep these techniques at the forefront, and steam ahead with a smile. Thank you!!!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Leila! I appreciate you letting me know, and am glad the article was helpful <3

  2. I just wanted to thank you for this article as well as your article about toddlers preferring their grandmas. I honestly felt low and ashamed for feeling so hurt by my toddler pushing me away in favor of my mother-in-law. I think your observations and advice are really helpful and helped me gain perspective. Just the fact that these articles exist makes me feel a less isolated. Thank you ❤️

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Lauren, I’m so glad the article helped. You’re definitely not alone, mama!

  3. This article was exactly what I needed! I’m feeling all the things you listed here and it’s so hard to relate to my friends because their child is super attached to them. I’m a SAHM and I’m always trying to do the zillion other things that need to get done while he’s up but I realized that’s actually hurting our relationship because I don’t get to have fun with him. I’m so worried about getting everything done but I just need to let go and enjoy time with my little bubba! Thank you!!!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I’m so glad the article helped, Era! I can relate to wanting to “do all the things” and be productive, and it’s good to remind ourselves to simply enjoy this time with our little ones.

  4. My almost three year old toddler is rejecting me for her dad. I’ve never felt what feels like so much hate in my life and it’s affecting my confidence as a parent. Intellectually I know it should just be a phase, but in the back of my mind I worry that this is creating the foundation for the rest of my life with her. It’s really hard not to take it personally and for it to not cause anxiety. Thank you!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      It can definitely be rough when one parent feels rejected, for both parents. The good news is that you know it’s a phase and that it’s not a lifelong fate. One thing I’ve noticed that really can help is to actually not focus on it so much. Kids can sense these things, even if they don’t intentionally act upon it. The more you see it as a bad thing, the more she’ll pick up on it and respond to it the way she currently is.

      So, one thing you can do is to see the positive side of it. She’s learning to bond and trust her dad and enjoy his company, which is a really good thing. You’re also able to be hands-off and tend to your needs or other needs. In other words, you can treat it as a matter-of-fact issue and even see the positives of it.

      For instance, if she wants dad to give her a bath, you can say, “Okay cool, I’m sure you’ll have fun! I’ll get started on the dishes while you bathe.” Then it becomes a “non-issue” for you, and she’ll sense that soon enough.

      Hang in there, Sarah! You are a good mom, no matter what <3

  5. My two and a half year old toddler rejects me most of the time and is so attached to daddy. From eating to sleeping to playing even when there’s a booboo she just needs dad and she will kick me away. It hurts me a lot to the point of crying.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      It’s definitely rough when we feel rejected by our kids. One thing that helps is to spend one-on-one time with her so that there isn’t a choice to be with dad. You can also make certain things non-negotiable, especially when dad is busy. For instance, if you’re going to bathe her but she wants daddy, you can say, “Daddy’s washing dishes right now, so I’m going to be bathing you.” That way, she knows that she can’t always request dad every single time.

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