Toddlers and mind games go hand in hand. If your toddler likes to play favourites, rest assured they still love you. They’ve just figured out a new way to show their independence. Here’s what you need to know to cope.
Toddlers go through phases faster than the hungry caterpillar eats strawberries. If your little one is crying out for daddy, don’t fret — playing favourites is common with toddlers and has nothing to do with you being loved any less than your partner. Your toddler may be playing favourites to relish in a newfound sense of self or they may just be a stickler for routine.
While it’s natural to feel rejected when your child favours their dad, try to see it as a passing phase that your toddler will eventually grow out of. If you’re really struggling, here are some tips on how to level the playing field and ensure you and your partner are on the same team.
Why you’re not the flavour of the month
Toddlers play favourites for all sorts of reasons. Two of the most common have to do with routine and attachment.
Most toddlers enjoy a predictable routine. If mummy normally sits down for dinner and daddy does bath and bed, chances are your toddler isn’t going to appreciate it when you mix it up a little. Toddler tantrums can start when you swap roles as parents so try to keep the routine as stable and predictable as you can to avoid any unwanted games.
Your toddler may also be playing favourites if they feel like they aren’t getting enough time with one parent or the other. If your toddler is prone to forming strong attachments — say with a blanket or a lovey — then they’ll also be the type to favour the parent who spends the most time away from the home. If that’s dad then they’ll be looking for reassurance that dad will be there and that means spending more time with dad when he’s home while pushing you away.
If you have been given the short end of the toddler-love straw, don’t fret — your toddler is simply trying to have their voice heard in the only way they know how. Here are our tips on how you can even up the scorecard.
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Getting back in the good books
It hurts when your toddler rejects your love and affection, but even if you’re smarting you have to remember that this is just a phase for your toddler and try to see it as a learning experience to discover what you can do better. Enlist your partner’s support to help turn the tide and remember you’ll be the apple of your little one’s eye again before you know it.
Spread the love
If your toddler is pushing you away in favour of their daddy it might sting but whatever you do, don’t let it show, says Heidi Murkoff in her book What To Expect The Toddler Years.
“Don’t let your hurt feelings show and don’t withdraw — that will only make your toddler cling more to her Dad. Instead, stay positive and let your little one know that you’re still into her even if she’s not that into you at the moment.”
Start something new
If you’re being snubbed by your toddler, trying to create a new tradition could be just the ticket, says Heidi. “Start some new traditions that you and your toddler can do together such as going to the farmers market on Sunday mornings, collecting leaves during walks or counting the stars before bedtime,” she suggests. “One-on-one time with each parent is always a good idea but it’s especially important when a child starts to favour one parent over the other.”
Hard though it may be, when your toddler starts playing favourites try not to react. Chances are they’re doing it to get a reaction out of you so the bigger the rise they get the longer the game will continue.
If your toddler starts demanding that daddy do everything for them it’s a way of testing their power over you. Don’t give in, keep a united front and let your toddler know that you both love them, no matter what they do.
Play good cop
If you’re usually the one to discipline your toddler it might be time to play good cop for a while. The parent who doles out the discipline isn’t likely to be the favourite so if you suspect this may be playing a part in your toddler’s favouritism it’s time to let the bad cop take the back seat for a while.
Take your place in the limelight
Your toddler is likely to favour the parent who spends the most quality time with them. While you might be there most of the day you’re likely to be doing the background jobs such as the laundry, cooking, cleaning and shopping. If dad doesn’t get much time at home he’s probably enjoying the lion share of the “fun” chores such as going to the park, reading bedtime stories or playing in the bath. Try to share the fun parenting tasks more equitably if possible so your toddler knows you can be fun, too.
During the toddler years your child is busy working out all sorts of relationship basics and while playing favourites is perfectly normally it can also unbalance your family. Try not to let it bother you and hold onto the fact that playing favourites is yet another phase your toddler is going through. Make changes where you can but, above all, don’t stop expressing the love that you have for your child — even if it’s likely to be spurned for the timebeing.