Don’t take it personal

Dec 21, 2012 at 3:00 p.m. ET

Like most phases of toddler behavior, this too will pass, but it still stings when your child prefers one parent over the other.

It's cute at first when your child gets excited when Daddy comes home, cries when he leaves, and walks around asking for 'Daddy' all day long, but it's hard to not feel a little jealous. Why does Daddy get all the fanfare?

Children naturally gravitate toward one parent over the other from time to time. Each gender brings different skills to the table that meet the child's emotional and developmental needs. That's one of the reasons why children benefit by having and building a relationship with both parents.

While it can be annoying for a parent when your child consistently chooses and wants the other parent, it's also a very normal part of your child's development and nothing to get alarmed about. Most kids will outgrow it over time (although some may take longer than others).

The preferred parent

According to Robert Nickell, aka ”Daddy Nickell,” father of six with one more on the way, and founder of, some of the best ways to deal with parent preference phases is not to make a big deal out of it and not to change your care taking roles just because your child insists she only wants Mommy or Daddy. There's no need to draw attention to the behavior by reprimanding or having lengthy discussions with your child. Depending on the age, you can simply, clearly and concisely tell your child that, for example, ”Mommy can't read you the book right now, but Daddy would like to do it" or "Right now, Daddy has the best hug for your hurt. Let me know when you want a Mommy hug. I’ll save a special one just for you!”

Make sure that you and your spouse are on the same parenting page as far as discipline so that your child isn't gravitating toward one that is more lenient than the other. Maintaining a good sense of humor and being very matter-of-fact when things are not going the way the child wants is the best way to navigate through this phase.

At the very least, try to enjoy the time your child is choosing your spouse over you because chances are next week, you'll be the preferred parent.

Challenges of stepparenting

As family dynamics researcher and stepdad, S. James Wheeler, founder of has learned, at least one segment of the parent community can always count on being the unpopular parent. Stepparents usually have a high hill to climb, but it doesn't always turn out badly. Many (biological and step) parents find that being the unpopular parent when children are young often make them more appreciated when the kids are grown. Being consistent and insisting on good behavior can make a parent quite unpopular. As children become young adults they have the perspective to understand and appreciate the (once unpopular) parent's motives and efforts.

Always remember, it's not the quantity but the quality of time we spend with our children that make the strongest bonds and every child will always benefit from consistent a loving presence in their life.

More about bonding with your children

10 Simple ways to bond with kids
How to nurture the dad bond

5 Simple ways to connect with your kids each day