How to Act When a Child Rejects One of Their Parents

If the child rejects one of their parents, you may feel confused and worried. However, it's a frequent behavior that can have several causes.
How to Act When a Child Rejects One of Their Parents

Last update: 10 January, 2022

Fortunately or unfortunately, younger children are transparent about their intentions and preferences, as they don’t yet understand social norms. However, when a child rejects one of their parents, they may feel hurt, confused, or worried.

In reality, it’s not uncommon for children to show certain preferences among their parents throughout their development for various reasons. And, on many occasions, it’s something normal.

If we know the different evolutionary stages that babies and children go through, we can better understand this type of behavior. However, when the rejection is intense and persistent, there may be underlying reasons that we shouldn’t ignore. For this reason, we’re going to delve deeper into this matter in the following article.

Why do children reject one of their parents?

A father kneeling down to talk with his yound daughter.

Their evolutionary stage

From the time a child is born until they reach approximately two years of age, the bond of attachment is established with their main reference figure, generally, the mother. She’s their main caregiver, who provides them with food, affection, and protection.

For little ones, this bond is vital, as they depend on this adult for their survival. For this reason, it’ s common for them to tend to feel anxious if they’re separated from her and that they tend to reject other people, even their own father. This behavior is more frequent after eight months and is something to be expected that isn’t a problem. Over time, the baby will gain security and independence, and this behavior will disappear.

The arrival of a sibling

Rejection can also be directed toward the mother, especially after the birth of a second child. The firstborn may feel displaced by the attention that the mother (logically) pays to the baby.

Therefore, they can react by asking for the presence and care of their father and showing some suspicion and reluctance towards their mother. As in the previous case, as the little one grows up, this behavior will decrease and they’ll return to having a good relationship with their mother.

Family dynamics

In other cases, we adults are responsible when the child rejects one of their parents. It’s common for this to happen in those families in which one of the parents takes care of the child almost completely and the other is practically absent, physically or emotionally. The bond developed with the first is strong and intense, while with the second it’s almost nil. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the child prefers to be with the parent who dedicates more time and affection.

The opposite can also happen. Sometimes, one of the parents spends the entire day outside working, and when they arrive, they just want to play and enjoy themselves with their children. Therefore, they delegate all responsibility for imposing limits and discipline on the other, who becomes, in the child’s eyes, the “bad cop.” For this reason, it’s possible for the infant to develop a preference for the parent who never scolds them.

A happy family sitting on a couch.

Insecure attachment

Finally, it’s common for a child to reject one of their parents when they haven’t established a secure attachment with them. If that parent hasn’t been able to meet the physical and emotional demands of the baby adequately, trust won’t have developed. For this reason, it’s possible that the child may reject them.

How to act when the child rejects one of their parents

First of all, you need to determine what the cause of the rejection is. If it’s a problem having to do with attachment or family dynamics, it’s important that the parents make the necessary changes in order to solve the issue. Therefore, it’s important for both to develop a secure attachment with the child and work as a team, meaning that both share both the responsibilities and the fun.

If the origin is in one of the first two causes that we’ve mentioned, then there’s no need to be alarmed. It’s one more part of the child’s evolutionary process and you’ll only need to give it time. If it’s the mother to whom the child feels more attached, then she can attempt to keep her distance when the father returns from work so that he can spend time strengthening the bond with the child. Make yourself less visible for a while subtly promoting the encounter between your child and their father.

However, it’s important that the “rejected” parent is understanding and doesn’t take the child’s rejection personally. It’s vital that you don’t react by getting angry or withdrawing your affection from the little one, but that you’re able to act as usual, downplay this childish behavior, and fill the little one with love, as you have always done.

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.

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