5 Steps to Take When Your Toddler Rejects Mom

Sometimes toddlers go through phases where they reject their mom and prefer their dad or other caregivers. Learn how to respond to this behavior in a positive and understanding way.

Toddler Rejecting Mom

You can’t help but feel a little jealous. Okay, a lot jealous.

Your toddler screams and cries when you pick him up but will run into dad’s arms. Trying to comfort him when he’s sad or hurt means endless screaming. And it feels like he’s even more attached to his grandmother than you.

In short, you feel like you might as well not exist. So yeah, a lot jealous.

We hear so much about mothers’ instincts and the bond between mom and child. Any time you don’t hold up to that model image of motherhood feels like you’ve failed somehow. Even if you “know” this shouldn’t matter, you still feel hurt every time he prefers other people over you.

What can you do when you’re not exactly his favorite? Take a look at these five powerful ways to respond. As these parents said about the article:

“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.”


“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

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 he needs 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—silly, 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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“I really relate to this. Thanks for sharing what you did. I never read anything that put words to what I feel especially in the baby and toddler season.”

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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. If we focus too much on these 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 playing with your toddler, then this can understandably make him the favorite parent.

For now, save the chores for after she’s 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.

Expert tip

Build predictable routines when you’re able to spend quality time 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 or weekly routine so that she has something positive to look forward to that’s solely with you.

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 how you behave 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 make you feel happy, the more willingly he can reciprocate.

4. Make the most of it

One of the most productive ways to respond to your toddler’s rejection is to make the most of it.

Does she want dad to feed her dinner? Great! That’s your chance to finally eat your meal uninterrupted. Does she fuss for grandma to play with her instead of you? Use that time for yourself. Rather than seeing it as a blatant 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 added plus? She’ll see a change in you and will likely respond to you in a positive way.

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 your child rejecting one parent, this phase can feel anything but quick.

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

The bottom line

It’s never easy when a child is overly attached to one parent. Now you have 5 powerful ways to respond and turn things around. No more feeling jealous, friend—whether he runs into your arms or not.

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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.

    2. Hi Nina, thank you so much for this article. I’ve been going back and forth on it as this is what I’m facing with my 20-month old. How long does this phase usually last? It’s been 3 months for us now. He doesn’t allow me to touch him, to put him to bed, to comfort him when he cries at night, and my heart breaks every single time. He only wants his dad. I’ve tried your advice but so far, it hasn’t been successful. Would you have other tips? Thank you so much, Sophie

      1. Nina Garcia says:

        Hi Sophie! Big hugs—I’m sure these last 3 months have been brutal. One thing that I’ve learned is that if you “accept” his preference and don’t make it so much about you, that he just might turn around. I’m not sure how you’re engaging with him, but if there are hints that you “need” him to show you affection as he does his dad, that might actually push him away more than so if you weren’t as “needy.” It’s sort of like relationships—if one person is too needy, then it can make the other person less willing to give. Again, not sure how you’re interacting with him, but something to keep in mind.

        The other thing I would recommend is to not give in to his unreasonable requests for dad. If he wants dad to put him to bed but it’s your turn to do so, let him know, “It’s mama’s turn tonight.” And don’t give in, even if he throws a fit. Do this consistently enough and he knows that there’s no changing things and that you’re equally capable of putting him to bed.

        I hope that helps <3

  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.

  6. Priyanka Patil says:

    Oh My God. This just calmed me. I was feeling hopeless when my 2.5 year old girl was telling me she doesn’t want me. Felt like I was about to faint as this was first time I heard her say that. I broke into tears. Came to read about it. This info calmed me with the right knowledge. Thank you.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Priyanka, I’m so glad you found my blog and that the article helped you feel better. You’re definitely not alone, and I’m certain that this isn’t going to keep going forever. Hang in there, mama <3