I have seen it many times in the last several years where a child will favor one parent over the other, for a short time anyway. Sometimes girls seem to be "Daddy's girl" and sometimes boys are much closer to their mothers; and then the opposite can happen also. Does it mean they love one parent more than the other? Highly doubtful; they just may like what the one parent does with them more. At our house, our 2-year-old granddaughter is all about grandpa; her eyes light up as soon as she sees him. Oh she loves her grandma too; I'm the one that changes her diaper, prepares her food for her, and puts her to sleep at night and she does want ME for those occasions. But when it comes right down to it, Grandpa always seems to be the one she gets excited about. He is the one that plays on the floor with her; takes her outside and lets her explore (grandma is more cautious); and of course always shares his "treats" with her. And this happens a lot with parents also; but don't worry, they usually change their favorites over time but for those parents who seem to be in "2nd Place" right now, Parents.com has some tips.
Don't take it personally
Being frequently passed over by your kid may be confusing and upsetting, but you have to keep your emotions in check. If you must, it's all right to say, "That hurts my feelings," but then let it go. Making them feel bad won't help the situation. If your child only wants Daddy to put them to bed or help them with their homework, step back and realize that their preference is not a poor reflection on you. Remember that their phase is not permanent - the parent they're closest to now will likely change as they grow and develop.
Be there for them
We're often so engaged in our daily routine that we forget to slow down and listen to what our child is saying. Whatever the reason for your child's current parent preference, an easy solution is to be more responsive to their needs. The next time they tell you a story, try reflecting their emotions to fuel the feeling of closeness. Empathy makes your child feel understood. So if they are having a meltdown because dad can't take them to the bus stop, reaffirm what they're saying: "I'm sorry, sweetie; I know you wish you could have Daddy. I'm here with you now, you're safe, and I love you so much." Hugs and kisses always help too.
Keep it light
Since your child may be anxious that they're not getting enough time with their parent of choice, play games that include both parents and get them laughing; cluck like chickens, do silly dances, or even try a game that was developed for this exact situation. It starts with Daddy sitting on the couch (or Mommy if she's the favorite). Ask your child to stand a few feet in front of him, and you be the monkey in the middle. Say, "This is the 'You Can't Get to Daddy Game.'" As they moves towards him, say, "You're all mine!" and give them a squeeze. Then, intentionally fumble before letting them reach the couch where Daddy hugs them. Laugh and say, "You did it! You're so fast!" Let them win every time. By playing this game, you're showing them they can always get to their favorite parent - and that the other one also loves and supports them. Play it spontaneously every day as long as it gets your child laughing!
Have play dates
Sometimes it takes hearing "Your the Worst Mommy (or Daddy) Ever" to help you realize that you need to spend some "fun" time with your child. This happens often when the least favored parent is the one helping with the mundane chores such as supervising while they brush their teeth before they go to bed. One mother, on Mother's Day, planned a fishing trip where the two of them created special memories together. The size of the experience doesn't matter. Your child will appreciate going on a walk or shopping for something special together. What's most important is that you set aside daily time to reconnect. Say, "I'm all yours for 15 minutes. What do you want to do?" If they don't know, grab their favorite toy and get the fun started!
Sometimes, a child prefers the parent who lets them stay up late or goof around longer in the bathtub. That's why it's important to make sure you are both following the same guidelines. Parents need to agree on the rules and stick to them to create consistency. Dinner, bath and bedtime should follow similar routines regardless of who's in charge, so work out a plan with your partner. And if one of you says no to your child, agree in advance that the other must follow suit - that goes for TV watching or a snack before dinner - since playing good cop/bad cop only feeds the divide.
Spending quality, fun time with your child and keeping them safe let's them know that BOTH of their parents love them so much!
Sue Junge is an Early Childhood Support Specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don't necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit www.iowarivervalleyeca.com.