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.
You 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.
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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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“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.” -Kristyn Leed
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your Toddler Doesn’t Want Daddy
- Toddler More Attached to Grandmother? How to Cope with Your Emotions
- What to Do When Your Child Is Overly Attached to One Parent
- 3-Year-Old Attached to Mom? 6 Mistakes to Avoid
- How to Deal with a Child Who Cries Over Everything
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