Is your child choosing one parent over the other? Does she only want Mom to put her to bed? Or, may only Dad pour their milk? Most children will go through a phase (probably more than once) of preferring one parent to the other, and possibly even excluding one parent or caregiver. While this can be quite hurtful for the parent who is being excluded, it is helpful to know this, too, is a phase and will pass. Preferring one parent or adult to another, is actually considered healthy development and common among children of all ages.
Preferring one parent to the other can typically be attributed to the attachment process. The attachment phase begins at birth and continues throughout our lives and it is an important process for your child to learn. The purpose of attachment is to find one person who provides the child with ultimate support and trust. While your child is learning the attachment process, along they way there might be some exclusions of a parent or caregiver. The exclusion of a parent may fluctuate back and forth between parents at different times depending on the child's need to identify with a parent based on different developmental stages and needs.
Sometimes a child's exclusion of a parent or caregiver may be exacerbated by your behaviors as a parent. Evaluate your roles are parents. Is one parent more fun and relaxed while the other is the main rule setter and disciplinarian? If so, your child is more likely to attach to the "fun one"-- who wouldn't! Try balancing the discipline and fun between the parents and see if that changes anything with the excluded parent.
Sudden changes in appearance may also be cause for a child's abrupt exclusion. Drastic haircuts, changing hair colors, even shaving off or growing a beard may influence a child's attachment or detachment to parents or caregivers. Be patient as your child adjusts to the change.
Here are some tips for "excluded parent":
1) Try and remain calm and not let it bother you too much. Yes, easier said than done, but remember -- this is a healthy phase for your child.
2) Evaluate your one-on-one time with your child. Children often attach to the parent with whom they spend most one-on-one time. Try setting up a new one-on-one routine; bedtime game, making Saturday morning breakfast together etc.
3) Allow your child some personal space. Pushing too much for their attention might have the reverse effect on your child and they might move further away.
4) Reassure them. Consistently affirm your love, and express that you are there for them when they are ready.
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And, some tips for "attached parent:"
1) Make sure you're not "hogging all the fun." As mentioned before -- strive to have equal fun and discipline responsibilities amongst parents and caregivers.
2) Step away from child and re-assure them your love and respect for other parents/caregiver. "I'm going to run a few errands, while you and Daddy go to the park together." Or, "While Daddy goes to the gym, Mommy is going to help you get ready for bed." This allows the child one-on-one time to reconnect with the excluded parent or caregiver.
While parental exclusion is normal developmental phase, it is still difficult and dis-heartening for the excluded parent or caregiver. Each child and family situation is unique to them, so we urge you to try some of the above tips, be patient, remain calm and reassure your child that you love them.
About this author
Elissa Sungar, IfNotYouWho.org
A Wisconsin native, and a recent transplant to Denver from California, Elissa is the co-creator of IfNotYouWho.org , a free website that offers easy in-home educational activities for young children.