When Children Prefer One Parent: What to Do and What Not to Do

Does your child prefer one parent over the other? Don't worry, because they're sure to love you both equally. Keep reading!
When Children Prefer One Parent: What to Do and What Not to Do
María José Roldán

Written and verified by the psychopedagogue María José Roldán.

Last update: 14 May, 2023

It can be a touchy subject when we realize that our children prefer one parent over the other. If this happens and we’re not the chosen one, we may feel some discomfort. That’s why we want to talk to you about what to do and what not to do in this situation.

When you think your child loves daddy more than mommy or the other way around, it may just be your perception. Children need to learn to manage their emotions because, even if you think they don’t prefer you, in reality, it’s not that they prefer one parent over the other. In fact, they may love you both equally, but they may have more affinity with one parent than they do with the other.

If you notice that they show some rejection toward you, it’s common to ask yourself why this happens and if it’s normal. Keep reading to learn more about this issue.

Why children prefer one parent over the other

From birth until just over two years of age, a baby’s strongest attachment is with their mother. This is because she’s usually the person who takes the most care of the child during the day and at night. As they grow older, children begin to broaden their references and attachment persons. They no longer love only mom or dad, but begin to have closer relationships with other adults, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles.

It’s then that the intensity of attachment to the mother (or father) begins to vary. Keep in mind that there are no instructions regarding the child’s life and the way they feel toward their parents in order for them to love them both equally.

A mother and father lying on the floor playing with their little boy.
It’s each parent’s parenting style, personality, character, and time available to dedicate to children, among other factors, that will make a child feel more attracted to mom or dad.

They don’t love you less or more

The fact that your child wants to spend more time with mom or dad doesn’t mean that they love you less. In fact, this preference will probably be temporary. What happens is that in these early stages of development, babies need to be closer to the parent with whom they identify better. In addition, they start to develop their personality, so they need to be closer to one or the other.

Therefore, you shouldn’t feel sad or rejected and you should always do what’s best for your child. That way, they’ll feel that you’ll always be there for them. You should always take time to give them a hug, to tell them that you love them, or to play with them. Whenever they cry, you’ll surely be there to comfort them. Don’t ever feel disappointed by their attitude, as they’re growing up. You should always be their model of security and infinite love.

Tips to keep in mind when children prefer one parent over the other

Just because you’re not number one in their preferences doesn’t mean you can’t be sooner or later. However, if you want to improve the situation, it’s important that you follow some tips to achieve it:

  • Spend quality time with your child.
  • Take care of your child and meet their needs.
  • Give unconditional love every day of your life.
  • Treat your child with respect.
  • Get to know them, listen to what they say, watch what they do, observe what interests them, and share those interests with them.
  • Educate them and raise them with good discipline.
  • Maintain good emotional control.
  • Control the most intense emotions, especially anger.
  • Get involved in all areas of their life.
  • Show your affection every day.
  • Show consistency between your words and your actions.
  • Always be their best example.
When children prefer one parent over the other, it’s probably a temporary situation. The most important thing is to always be present and show your affection.

Do’s and don’ts

When you feel that your child prefers their other parent over you, there are some things you can do and others that are best avoided. Here are some examples for you to consider.

Do’s and don’ts

  • Strengthen the bond and look for new ways.
  • Be aware that it’s temporary.
  • Always act normally.
  • Strengthen your patience.
  • Be the best example.

What not to do

  • Don’t feel bad or take it personally.
  • Don’t react badly to their preferences.
  • Never blackmail them emotionally or make them feel guilty.
  • Never ignore them or reject them in any way just because you feel this way.
  • Don’t try to buy their affection with gifts.

It’s a temporary situation

When your child prefers mom or dad, it’s important that you don’t feel sad or bad. Keep in mind that when you least expect it, this situation will pass and your child will come to you before you know it. If you follow our advice, it’ll happen much sooner than you think.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bilbao, A. (2015) El cerebro del niño explicado a los padres. Editorial: Plataforma Actual

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.